So the Whitewater Slalom Foundation is launched. Which brings up the question: Does the whitewater world really need a new organization with an already existing alphabet soup of paddling-related nonprofits? Founder and 1972 slalom bronze medalist Jamie McEwan says yes.
“There’s no organization that focuses on slalom,” he says. “The thing that killed me, was that I was getting solicitations from the US Ski Team, but none from the US Canoe-Kayak Team….”
There’s no denying that US slalom has fallen on hard times, even while it has been flourishing internationally. The turnout at major races like the US team trials and US Nationals is about half what it was at the high-water mark for US slalom, the mid-1980s. And consider the fact that, for the first time since 1963, the US will not send a K-1 Women’s team in slalom. None of the women’s kayaks at the team trials met the class-adjusted percentage cut-off for the 2009 US slalom team. (Admittedly, the top three women from 2008 did not attend the trials, due to injury, pregnancy, etc. And, there didn’t used to be a percentage cut-off at all. Still….)
Meanwhile, at the grass roots level, participation has been dropping steadily…until this spring. “We had more racers, particularly junior level kids, at our Kish Slalom than we’ve had in years,” says Dave Kurtz, who runs Bellefonte, PA’s Mach 1 program. “It’s because kids want to get on that Mid-Atlantic Junior Team. And I think it’s going to boost attendance at this summer’s Junior Olympics, too.”
Mid-Atlantic Junior Team? What the heck is that? you may ask.
Although the WSF was only established this March, it has seal-launched and hit the water already paddling. Something called the “Regional Youth Teams Initiative” is giving matching funds to paddlers on Regional Cadet, 16-and-under, and Junior Teams who go on to race over the summer. Two other initiatives promise to create change at all levels–a National Ranking Series will provide weekly updated rankings on the web, and an Under-23 initiative will name a U-23 team, complete with uniforms and funded training camps, and establish a U-23 North American Championships.
It’s estimated that it would take a yearly budget of well over a million dollars to bring US slalom up to the level of the top slalom nations–the Germans, French, Czechs, Slovaks, Australians. But the WSF managed to have an impact even before its first fundraising letter hit the mail.
Make room for the WSF. Maybe one more acronym will do the trick, after all….