Whitewater slalom kayakers and canoers from all over the country participate in the Bank of America U.S. Open race

The Nantahala River is hosting a good number of Olympic hopefuls March 23, 24 and 25.  Sponsored by the Nantahala Race Club (NRC), the U.S. Open is not an Olympic qualifying event, but with the US Team Trials just one month away–and London (site of the 2012 Summer Olympics) fast approaching, the US Open is strategically an important race this year.

One of the advantages to the US Open is its location on the Nantahala River. The US Canoe & Kayak Team (USCKT) trains at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC. Switching venues from a familiar course that athletes use to train day in and day out,  to one less-familiar helps the athletes keep on their toes on the river.  A big component to winning a race is the ability to read water. If a racer paddles neck-and-neck with their closest opponent as far as strokes go, the tie breaker might be who uses the current and/or particular features on the river to shave off an extra second—or tenth of a second, to the finish line.

The US Open also gives the athletes an opportunity to fine tune their training strategy. They can identify their weaknesses and come away from the weekend with a more focused approach to their training needs.

“Any chance to get in the start gate and experience real time race simulation is extremely valuable,” is how Horace Holden Jr., former Olympic athlete and familiar face at many US Opens, sees the role of the US Open for the athletes. “It’s critical to have a race day plan and routine to get the most from the hours and days and years of training. Practicing that routine helps eliminate nervousness and anxiety and sharpen focus. That’s the best way channel energy in the right direction, achieving the best performance possible. Even if the Open is not a qualifier, it is an additional opportunity to hear 3, 2 ,1…… and execute the race day plan.”

Looking beyond this weekend’s event, the next step will be team trials. Held in April at the Charlotte Whitewater Center, shaving that “extra second” off their time might mean the difference between making the team and sitting this year out. There are only three boats that qualify to be on the team from each category/division: K1 (kayak – individual) Mens, K1-womens, C-1(canoe – individual) Mens, C-1 women, and C-2 (canoe-tandem) Mens.

From team trials, the competition will become even fiercer leading up to the summer Olympics. Only four of the fifteen team members will ultimately compete in the 2012 Olympics because there will be only one boat represented from four of the five divisions: K1-Mens, K1-Womens, C1-Mens and C2-Mens. C1-womens division was only sanctioned two years ago, and will not be an Olympic event in 2012.

Slalom boating is about speed, but also grace, finesse and precision—a combination made so much more challenging when adding whitewater/current into the equation. This weekend is a great time to come out and watch the event at the Nantahala Falls. It is also an opportunity to show your support for athletes who have put their heart and soul into training for a chance to represent the USA at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Check out the NRC website for a schedule of the event.

And for how you can use slalom to improve your own paddling check out our slalom articles.