Dave Shively: Growing in Golden | SteamboatToday.com

Dave Shively: Growing in Golden

Dave Shively

— The “pure Rocky Mountain spring waters,” that flow into Golden provided the foundation for the world’s largest single-site brewery and helped put Colorado on the map, or at least create an ideal of it in the minds of Coors’ drinkers – specifically those who have never smelled the general brewery vicinity or wonder about what really washes off Interstate-70 and into Clear Creek.

But Chris Wiegand is now hoping Clear Creek will provide the foundation for Colorado’s future Olympians (Don’t hit the Nordic panic button, we’re talking about summer athletes).

Wiegand, director of the Front Range Paddle Association, sees Colorado as the fertile “powerhouse” cradle to feed the U.S. team.

It’s easy to shrug off Olympic kayaking. Slalom and flatwater sprints are pretty boring. Imagine Olympic skiing without freestyle moguls and aerials and snowboarding without halfpipes or snowboardcross.

It’s also easy to dismiss Colorado as the site. We’ve got a pretty short season – take a look at the Yampa. USA Canoe/Kayak, the sport’s national governing body, is based in Charlotte, N.C., a year-round boating locale where the U.S. National Whitewater Center recently was completed.

But Wiegand is looking down the road. He hopes to harness Colorado’s greatest resource – a base of kids that went into the whitewater in their backyards. Why?

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“Because freestyle and downriver racing will be the future of Olympic competition – we need to start developing it now,” Wiegand said. “The U.S. center course is not great for beginners, (the Golden park) is the roots. It’s one of the original courses in the country.”

Wiegand has organized a high school state championship and Junior Olympic qualifiers there and is in the midst of hosting the 2007 North American Whitewater Junior Olympic Championships, which run through July 8.

These are not your normal JOs. Everything Wiegand does in paddlesports revolves around the concept of “inclusivity.” This goes for the juniors’ age groups, paddle disciplines, events and even countries involved. Pretty much any paddler from any country, Olympic- to gaper-caliber can compete in anything from boater cross to slalom to freestyle.

Wiegand’s scope is pretty staggering. When I met with the former Chinese national coach last week in Golden, he was training a group of three Iranian girls with their coach, Katayoun Ashraf, who had hopes of creating an Olympic team.

Still, he only is one man and, it’s beyond his ability to unite Colorado’s disparate river festivals under a single series banner to build that base. How great would it be to see kids actually using the gates at Dr. Rich Weiss Park, training for a point series? The Front Range will need some cooperation from like-minded mountain paddling communities and coordination with their festivals and clubs for Colorado boaters to stand on Olympic podiums to come.