Several years ago, Oklahoma City poured its heart — and $45 million — into a world-class, man-made whitewater center, one of the few of its caliber worldwide. This year, that investment is paying off for OKC in a new way, with an invitation from the International Canoe Federation to host a number of championship water sport events building up to the 2028 Olympic Games.
The lineup includes:
- Pan American Canoe Slalom Championships May 6-8, 2022
- ICF Stand Up Paddle World Cup August 25-27, 2022
- ICF Canoe Sprint Super Cup August 25-27, 2022
- Red Bull Rapids August 27, 2022
- Swiftwater Rescue Championship Games September 2, 2022
- ICF Freestyle World Cup 2024
- ICF Canoe Slalom Super Cup 2024
- ICF Canoe Sprint Super Cup 2024
- Pan American Canoe Slalom Championships, Continental Qualifier for Paris Olympic Games 2024
- ICF Canoe Slalom World Championship 2026
The situation in Ukraine has moved the upcoming ICF Stand Up Paddle World Cup and the Canoe Sprint Super Cup from their planned location in Russia to the RIVERSPORT Rapids whitewater center in OKC.
Other events on the list make whitewater history in their own ways: the Red Bull Rapids championship will touch down on American soil for the first time, the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships will return to the US for the first time since 2014, and the Swiftwater Rescue Championship Games make their national debut.
The Swiftwater Rescue Championship Games shine a unique spotlight on a population that usually flies under the radar: First Responders. They’ve used the whitewater center for years to develop their skills for water rescue missions, and now they’re getting the chance to put their hard work to a lighter purpose.
The uptick in competitive events here in the US shows how the worldwide global community is expanding. In the past, championships along these lines have mostly taken place in Europe with just a few forays overseas. The biggest benefit of hosting such prominent events is the chance to offer Americans a new perspective on the potential of whitewater sports. “This is an unprecedented number of events to be awarded to North America,” says Ron Sribar, the General Manager of High-Performance programs for the American Canoe Association. “We believe it signals a significant opportunity for the U.S. to benefit from the growth in competitive paddle sports that other countries around the globe have already experienced.”
This means increased opportunities for recreational whitewater participants to consider ramping things up a notch, or for young athletes to shake up tradition and see whitewater sports as a viable outlet for competitive energy.
“Our goal is to strengthen the sport in the U.S. on the Road to LA 2028,” Mike Knopp, the executive director of RIVERSPORT, explains. “We see these world events in the U.S. and the Olympic Games in LA as catalysts for American youth to become as passionate about paddle sports as are our counterparts in countries around the globe.”
The IFC picked the RIVERSPORT center not only because of the facility itself, but also thanks to its influential community programs. The center’s flagship programs, River Protector initiative for maintaining clean waterways and Thrive Outside OKC for expanding the reach of outdoor education, address some of the most stubborn environmental and socioeconomic barriers to entry in water sports. That’s the kind of comprehensive perspective that makes sports matter in the greater scheme of things, and gives the center grounds to help expand the scope of whitewater adventure.