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How the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte became a training center for Olympians

The Whitewater Center is home to a U.S. Olympic Training site where athletes train and compete in canoe and kayak slalom.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The U.S. National Whitewater Center is home to the largest manmade whitewater river. The Whitewater Center has three different channels with over 12 million gallons of water flowing through its system.

On most days, the Whitewater Center, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, operates as an outdoor center offering over 30 different recreational activities.

Thousands of visitors flock to the facility each year to experience the thrills of hiking, whitewater rafting, paddleboarding, canoeing and so much more. 

But the center is also home to a U.S. Olympic Training site where athletes from all over the country train in the discipline of whitewater kayaking.

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ORIGIN OF THE WHITEWATER CENTER 

The Whitewater Center has been open since the summer of 2006. Jesse Hyde, Brand Director at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, said the goal from the start was to create "an outdoor lifestyle center to engage the public at large, to be able to recreate and experience activities to push people out of their comfort zones." 

Hyde said a big aspect of that has always been the training capacity of the site itself.

"So this front channel is actually called the competition channel, and it contains class three and four whitewater," Hyde explained. "And we set it up for athletes to train throughout the year to prepare for World Cups, Pan American Games, and obviously the Olympic Games in Tokyo." 

The facility, Hyde said, was designed for two purposes in mind: 

  • Training for canoe slalom, the Olympic discipline for whitewater kayaking 
  • Recreational boating for kayakers and rafters.

HOW THE MANMADE RAPIDS WORK

For those of you wondering, Hyde gave WCNC Charlotte an inside look into how the facility's rapids are generated. 

Hyde said the entire system consists of 12 million gallons of water and is entirely gravity fed. The reservoir at the base of the rapids contains the entirety of their water. 

Hyde said they have seven custom-made pumps that actually channel the water up to an upper reservoir and then it's gravity-fed down to the bottom. The front channel is about 1000 meters in length and it consists of a gated course, which is used by the athletes to set gates and then train for the discipline of slalom. 

RELATED: Whitewater Center continues to serve as training course for U.S. Olympians

Hyde explained that the features used within the competition channel, by and large, remain the same when the general public accesses them for rafting and kayaking. 

"That being said there are several features along the channel bed that we can customize to create a training program and a different course for the athletes themselves," Hyde said. 

The facility has a number of features that they call "pegboards" and "bollards" so that they can shift the hydraulics and create a new course and a new training regiment whenever the athletes are there. 

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HOW DID THEY GET CONNECTED WITH THE OLYMPICS?

When the Whitewater Center was first being contemplated in the early 2000s, Hyde explained that the key to their success would be implementing some programming that would be easily recognizable to the public. 

"The Olympics are one of the most recognizable brands in the world," Hyde said." So it made logical sense to incorporate some of the training aspects that were needed for US canoe and kayak at the time to be able to use the facility. 

Hyde stressed that the training aspect is just one small part of what they do. 

"This place has over 30 experiences for the public to enjoy," Hyde said. "But training is definitely one of the coolest aspects at the facility."  

RELATED: U.S. Olympic Trials for canoe, kayak held in Charlotte

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