(Coach Alan Anderson gives a celebratory speech to Gig Harbor athletes at post-Nationals banquet)
Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team (GHCKRT) has outgrown the parking lot outside of its training grounds. Pretty soon they will need a bigger trophy case as well.
Based in Gig Harbor, Wash., GHCKRT won its second consecutive Sprint National Championship team title under Head Coach Alan Anderson. The club takes home the Yonkers Trophy with 28 athletes accumulating 473.5 points.
Anderson planned to let some of his top athletes who paddled in Canada for the Junior World Championships last weekend take off the long-distance 5,000-meter races this weekend. That plan changed when he did the math and realized the opportunity ahead of him. He called a team meeting the night before the first day of racing.
“I said, ‘I needed everybody in every race. We miss no races, we [will] have no underweight boats,’” Anderson said. “There were a lot of frowns, I don’t know if they believed me. I said, ‘we have a shot at winning our second National Championship and we’re going to take it.’”
The small city north of Tacoma has produced a thriving feeder club for U.S. Junior and Senior National Teams. Previous members Cedric Bond and Katy Hill (Gig Harbor, Wash.) have enrolled in the Oklahoma City University varsity kayak program, the only one of its kind in the U.S. Adding to that list is Natalie Griffin (Gig Harbor, Wash.), who paddled her last race in a GHCKRT jersey on Sunday.
Griffin won two Golds and one Bronze medal in junior women’s kayak on the weekend.
“I’m really sad, I was really connected with everyone on my team and especially my coaches Alan and Mr. [Jon] Sousley,” Griffin said. “They have been like dads to me and every girl on the team like a sister and all the guys like a brother.”
“Every single day we go out and work hard in the beginning of the day before school. And in the afternoon we just work our hardest and push each other. With our coaches right there along our side, it makes it all worthwhile.”
WHAT: 2013 U.S. Sprint National Championships
WHERE: Oklahoma City Boathouse District in Oklahoma City, Okla.
WHEN: August 8-11
WHO: the best flatwater paddlers from across the country
Click HERE for a recap of the Master's level events.
One year into the 2016 Olympic quadrennial, kayaker Ryan Dolan (Kailua, Hawaii) feels good about where he stands having placed 11th in the Under-23 World Championships last week and then winning the senior men’s K1 200m National Championship on Saturday.
Dolan, who narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2012 Games, finished in 38.159, which was +0.877 seconds ahead of Chris Miller (Gainesville, Ga.). Miller and fellow Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club member Stanton Collins (Gainesville, Ga.) teamed up to win the senior men’s K2 200m title with a time of 36.777.
In senior men’s canoe, Rob Finlayson (Gainesville, Ga.) clinched the C1 200m title with a time of 42.088, which was +1.726 seconds ahead of LCKC teammate Ian Ross (Bethesda, Md.). The two then joined forces to win the C2 200m title with a time of 42.467. Both athletes will be heading to the 2013 World Championships later this month in Duisburg, Germany.
In senior women’s kayak, Kaitlyn McElroy (Oklahoma City, Okla.) finished first in K1 200m with a time of 45.066, ahead of Oklahoma City Riversport (OKCRS) teammates Arezou Fakhr (Oklahoma City, Okla.), Maggie Hogan (Oklahoma City, Okla.), and Katy Hill (Gig Harbor, Wash.). McElroy and Hogan then teamed up to win the K2 200m title with a time of 40.864.
In ParaCanoe, Nik Miller of Washington Canoe Club (WCC) won the K1 title with a time of 54.858, which was +1.918 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. Greg Crouse of San Diego Canoe and Kayak Team finished first in V1 (outrigger) with a time of 1:02.289.
“It feels great to be a National Champion, I work hard for this point,” Crouse said. “I made the National Team and I wanted to come here and get some pre-race in before Worlds. I feel strong, I feel confidence, I’m going to have a good showing at Worlds.”
Megan Blunk of GHCKRT won the women’s K1 title with a time of 59.279, which was +2.400 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. Kelly Allen of Texas finished first in V1 (outrigger) with a time of 1:03.233.
In the junior men’s ranks, Dylan Puckett (Jones, Okla.) of OKCRS won the K1 200m final in 40.972, while Gavin Ross (Bethesda, Md.) of WCC claim the National Championship in C1 200m with a time of 45.279.
“It feels really good to win out here,” Puckett said. “Again, just like [at Nationals in OKC] in 2010, I was hoping that I would make everybody proud here in Oklahoma City to take the win again.”
Junior women’s kayaker Natalie Griffin (Gig Harbor, Wash.) of GHCKRT won the K1 200m final in 46.229, while junior canoeist Lydia Keefe Sampson (Seattle, Wash.) took gold in C1 200m with a time of 57.591.
From an overall team points perspective, this year’s Sprint Nationals is more competitive than it’s been in years. After Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team (GHCKRT) won the team title in 2012, Oklahoma City Riversport Coach Aasim Saleh warned Gig Harbor Coach Alan Anderson that the OKCRS paddlers would be gunning for the team title in 2013.
Anderson, who said he was never concerned with winning team titles before 2012, poured over the race schedule on his plane trip from Washington to Oklahoma, predicting finishes and adding up potential point totals. He realized that his group of athletes would have a shot at repeating as Team National Champions. The competition was on before any boats hit the water.
“The important point is that we’re all one [U.S] team,” Anderson said. “By making each other more competitive with each other, it’s the only way we are going to be able to compete with Europe and the other big countries - by giving each other our best stuff.”
Newly hired U.S. Sprint High Performance Manager Michele Eray agrees that stiff competition among clubs is a necessary precursor for international success.
“The only way to get better and faster is to compete more or at least have a higher standard of competition. Because [America] is so big and its so far from everywhere, you have to do it in house. So that’s probably one of the biggest thing is to be able to come to Nationals and say ‘I won Nationals or I made a Final and it was really hard to do’. That would be a good goal to have.”
Thunderstorms and flash flooding early Friday morning caused each race on Day 2 of Sprint Nationals to either be postponed or cancelled altogether. With buoys and debris scattered across the course, only the long distance races were held Friday. Racing will resume Saturday with the 200m sprints.
In senior men’s C1 5000m, Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club finished 1-2-3 with Ian Ross (Bethesda, Md.) earning the National Championship title with a time of 20:53.871. Ross finished +12.773 seconds ahead of Rob Finlayson (Gainesville, Ga.), while Ben Hefner (Gainesville, Ga.) placed 3rd.
In senior women’s K1 5000m, OKCRS kayakers claimed the top 5 spots. Maggie Hogan (Oklahoma City, Okla.) led the way with a first place time of 20:19.668, +9.345 seconds ahead of K2 partner Kaitlyn McElroy (Oklahoma City, Okla.). Rounding out the top 5 were Katy Hill (Gig Harbor, Wash.), Arezou Fakhr (Oklahoma City, Okla.), and Nicole Mallory (West Henrietta, N.Y.).
In junior women’s C1 5000m, it was a Pacific Northwest battle with GHCKRT members finishing 1st and 3rd, sandwiched around Anna Socha of Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club. Makenzie Sousley (Gig Harbor, Wash.) won the race with a time of 26:17.327, while Savannah Jones (Gig Harbor, Wash.) placed 3rd.
In junior men’s K1 5000m, Istvan Urban (San Diego, Calif.) won the title with a time of 19:31.861, 40 seconds ahead of fellow San Diego Canoe and Kayak Team member Diego Vazquez.
Oklahoma City Riversport (OKCRS) athletes Kaitlyn McElroy and Maggie Hogan kicked off Sprint Nationals on their home waters with first place finishes in in senior women’s K2 500m and K4 500m on Thursday. The two U.S. Senior Team members won the K2 500m final in 1:49.110, which was +3.061 seconds faster than OKCRS teammates Nicole Mallory (West Henrietta, N.Y.) and Arezou Fakhr (Oklahoma City, Okla.).
All four then teamed up to finish first in K4 500m with a time of 1:43.902, which was +3.857 seconds ahead of Cannie Ash (Hoschton, Ga.), Alex McLain, Karenna Paul and Macy Dwyer of Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club (LCKC).
LCKC kayaker Chris Miller (Gainesville, Ga.) won the senior men’s K1 1000m final with a time of 3:45.378, which was +2.933 seconds faster than Ryan Dolan (Kailua, Hawaii) of Hawaii Canoe and Kayak Team.
LCKC canoeists Ian Ross (Bethesda, Md.) and Rob Finlayson (Gainesville, Ga.) finished first in senior men’s C2 1000m with a time of 3:57.129, which was +7.168 seconds ahead of Ian’s brother Gavin Ross (Bethesda, Md.) and David Podloch of the Washington Canoe Club.
Gavin Ross mostly competed in junior events, finishing first in the men’s C1 1000m with a time of 4:20.796. Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team (GHCKRT) canoeists Andrew Field (Gig Harbor, Wash.) and Zach Guay (Seattle, Wash.) placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively.
Istvan Urban (San Diego, Calif.) and Garen Doyle of San Diego Canoe and Kayak Team won the junior men’s K2 1000m final with a time of 3:39.703.
GHCKRT athletes claimed the junior women’s K1 500m and C2 500m titles. Alyson Morse (Gig Harbor, Wash.) finished the K1 500m final in 2:02.473 while teammates Makenzie Sousley (Gig Harbor, Wash.) and Savannah Jones (Gig Harbor, Wash.) finished the C2 500m final in 2.14.809.
Four hundred of the country’s best sprint paddlers will descend upon the Oklahoma River Thursday for Sprint Nationals. Each will be competing for individual honors, but also for the coveted team points title.
The last two clubs to win the team national championships are also the clubs recording the best results at the 2012 Junior/U-23 World Championships last weekend in Welland, Canada, Aug. 1-4. Together, athletes from the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team and Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club earned seven Top 20 finishes last weekend.
The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club (LCKC) is based out of Lake Lanier in Gainesville, Ga. – the site of flatwater racing at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. The club has won ten national championship titles, but was topped in 2012 by the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Race Team (GHCKRT).
“As a club, Lanier has 12 senior athletes who are all strong competitors,” said LCKC Head Coach Claudiu Ciur. “We also have 20 younger athletes, mostly bantams. This group is trained by the best development coach in the country, Kalen Lee Scholz. She has been producing quality athletes for a few years now and we expect strong results from all of her kids. Like any Nationals we come expecting to win.”
National champions will be crowned in bantam, juvenile, junior, under-23, senior, masters and paracanoe classes. Exhibition races will occur Friday night to show off the river’s new stadium lights.
Many of the competitors are fresh off solid performances at the Junior World Championships. Leading the way for Team USA were 2016 Olympic Hopefuls Ryan Dolan (Kailua, Hawaii) and Ian Ross (Bethesda, Md.). Dolan finished 11th in men’s U-23 K1 200m while Ross placed 8th in men’s U-23 C1 1000m.
“He has been training under me for one year,” Ciur said. “He has proved himself to be very professional and had a great fight with many tough countries through the [Junior Worlds] regatta. I believe Ian has what it takes to be one of the athletes that can qualify the 1000m C1 spot for Rio . In the next three weeks, our goal is to finish in the top 15 at the Senior World Championships in Duisburg, Germany.”
A growing number of homegrown and transplant paddlers call the Boathouse District home. Dylan Puckett (Jones, Okla.) will race for his fifth consecutive national championship title. Just last weekend he was placing 13th and 16th in K2 races at the Junior World Championships. U.S. Senior Team Members Kaitlyn McElroy (Oklahoma City, Okla.) and Maggie Hogan (Oklahoma City, Okla.) were most recently seen winning medals individually and together at the Lake Placid International in Lake Placid, N.Y., July 6-7.
Joe Jacobi, USA Canoe/Kayak CEO: “We’re excited to return to Oklahoma City for Nationals, especially as our national headquarters are located here in the Boathouse District. The venue at the Boathouse District is constantly setting the bar, and we’re excited to showcase a Night Race exhibition as part of the festivities.”
Mike Knopp, OKC Boathouse Foundation Executive Director: “Seeing so many of Oklahoma’s up-and-coming stars race on the Oklahoma River is truly heart-warming, as we’ve worked so hard to create a world-class aquatic venue here in OKC. We invite everyone in the community to come down to cheer for our athletes and help us make all of our out-of-town guests feel at home.”
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, USA Canoe/Kayak is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Canoe Federation. It governs the Olympic disciplines of Flatwater Sprint, Whitewater Slalom, the Paralympic discipline of Paracanoe and sanctions Freestyle, Marathon, Outrigger, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddle Board, Kayak Polo, Dragon Boat and Canoe Sailing in the United States. For more information about USA Canoe/Kayak, please visit us on the web at www.usack.org, on Twitter at @usacanoekayak and Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/USACanoeKayak.