Our Non-US Canoe/Kayak Team

Aug. 12, 2008, 8:44 a.m. (ET)

The defining feature of the Olympic Games is the global dimension of the event. 204 countries had teams marching into those incredible Opening Ceremonies.

Watching that parade of athletes, I was struck by just how global USACK’s own activities are. We not only travel around the world regularly as part of training and competing in all our sports, but we host many athletes and teams from other countries each year.

Here in Beijing I watched as the Chilean team marched in. One of their athletes, Pablo McCandless is a dual-citizen who has loved in the US and trained and competed with our slalom athletes for years. His coach for these Olympics is also one we call our own, Rafal Smolen.

The small team representing Guam marched by and I spotted Sandra Low, a member of the USACK Board of Directors. She is serving a Team Leader and coach for a young canoeist who qualified for Guam in the Oceania Continental Qualifier. Did you know that there are more members of USACK in Guam than in any of the 50 States?

One of the many colorful teams from Africa that entered the Bird’s Nest Stadium was from Senegal. I felt a sense of pride in knowing that Assane Fall, a wonderful young man who has made many friends during his last two years training with our Sprint team in Chula Vista, was an Olympian only as a result of his experience working with our head coach, Nathan Luce, our assistant coaches (a special nod to Chris Zimmer) and our athletes who welcomed him to their team. Assane’s stay with us was made possible by a program of the IOC called Olympic Solidarity designed to broaden the participation in sports in developing countries. Assane progressed dramatically as a paddler, learned to speak English and earned his Olympic experience. We also gained from his humor, warmth and attitude. A real-life, “mini-Olympic” experience.