For six minutes a day over five days at the London 2012 Olympic Games, it appeared that freestyle kayaking was an Olympic sport. Dane Jackson (Rock Island, Tenn.) and athletes from around the world were doing tricks in front of 8,000 spectators at the Lee Valley White Water Centre in Waltham Cross, UK.
The kayakers were taking part in a freestyle demonstration during breaks in the slalom racing. Representing North America, the 19-year-old Jackson put on a show alongside young playboaters from Great Britain, Japan, New Zealand, and Uganda.
“It feels awesome, I feel honored,” Dane Jackson said. “Obviously, North America has delivered a lot of freestyle kayakers, that’s where most of them come from. For me to be picked and come over and represent, I feel super honored.”
Freestyle kayak is not an Olympic sport. The Olympic program consists of whitewater slalom and flatwater sprint. Sprint has been part of the Olympics since 1936, while slalom debuted in 1972. Golf and rugby will be introduced in 2016. By demonstrating their craft, the freestyle kayakers hope to turn the conversation toward inclusion in future Olympic Games.
“Freestyle is the snowboarding of kayaking,” said USA Canoe/Kayak CEO Joe Jacobi. “It’s festive, it really reaches out to young, adventure-minded kids and it also has that element of gymnastics on whitewater. It could really help the Olympic movement bring in more of that X Games type participant, stakeholder, fan to the Olympic movement.”
Dane Jackson is no stranger to the Olympic stage. His father, Eric Jackson, competed in slalom kayak at the Barcelona 1992 Games. But the family is known for freestyle. The title for world’s best playboater has seemingly been passed down from father to son. Dane was honored as the U.S. Olympic Committee Male Athlete of the Month in June 2011 after winning three gold medals at the 2011 Freestyle World Championships.
“I just go out there and throw the tricks as big as I can, that’s about as close to my ‘signature’ as it gets,” Dane Jackson said. “My dad made [up] most of the moves and I’m just in the next generation trying to think of other stuff.”
Dane’s sister Emily Jackson (Rock Island, Tenn.) is an elite kayaker in both freestyle and slalom disciplines. All three Jacksons participated in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Whitewater Slalom, with Emily placing third among women’s kayaks. More recently, Dane and Emily finished first in Men’s Canoe and Women’s Kayak, respectively, during the 2012 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Cup Series.
Eric founded Jackson Kayak, the leading producer of whitewater boats in the industry. Four of the six freestyle athletes participating in the London 2012 demonstration used Jackson Kayaks.
“What’s interesting about whitewater paddlers, regardless of what brand of boat you paddle, everyone cheers for the Jacksons,” Jacobi said.
Dane Jackson admits that an Olympic future for freestyle is in the back of his mind, but that’s not why he competes and that’s not what brought him to London last summer.
“[I wanted to] just go out there and let people know that there is another aspect to kayaking, one that’s just as fun, and that we all love doing it. That’s what we want to show the entire world.”
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USA Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit membership organization based in Oklahoma City, OK, promoting canoe and kayak racing in the United States. A member of the United States Olympic Committee, USA Canoe/Kayak is the national governing body for the Olympic sports of Flatwater Sprint and Whitewater Slalom and the official U.S. federation of the International Canoe Federation. Other paddling sports sanctioned by USACanoe/Kayak include Marathon, Freestyle, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddleboard, Canoe Polo, Canoe Sailing, Outrigger, and Dragon Boat. 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.