The Pan Am Games are coming to Canada for the third time in July 2015, with Toronto awarded the honour of being the latest Host City for the third biggest international sporting festival in the world. The impending games means that world-class sporting venues across Ontario have been freshly constructed or redeveloped in anticipation of the world-class competition. One of those venues primed and ready for the games is the Welland Flatwater Centre.
Pan Am Games in Welland
Located in southern Niagara, the township of Welland – named after the Celtic word for ‘Good River’ – sits at a junction point between the Welland River and two separate channels of the large Welland Canal, a waterway which flows between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
The Flatwater Centre utilises part of the waterway for open water sports on an international level. The centre has been using the canal for sporting events since 2007 as part of the City of Welland Council’s investment in sports tourism. Although the centre will be reserved for the duration of the Pan Am Games, it thrives on local clubs for its staple sports of canoeing, kayaking, open water swimming, triathlon events and even dragon boat racing. For the Pan Am Games, the Flatwater Centre has been named the official venue for the kayak and canoe sprint events.
The sister sports of canoe sprint racing (paddling from a kneeling position) and sprint kayaking (paddling from a seated position) are among the most physically gruelling sports in the games, so deep and placid water is a must for these events. The Welland Canal is a perfect example of the ideal water conditions for paddling sports.
The centre and the accompanying waterway has gone through an extensive redevelopment in recent years, to accommodate both the world-class expectations of the upcoming 2015 Pan Am Games, and the 2013 ICF Junior and U23 Canoe Sprint World Championships. The eight-kilometer stretch of canal water to be used for the games has been widened for international competition standards.
The Flatwater Centre itself has also been given a significant upgrade. Two new buildings were constructed as part of a ten million dollar refurbishment. The canal trackside now has a timing tower and start towers, and permanent seating for up to five hundred spectators – temporary seating is added for events like the Pan Am Games to boost that number to fifteen hundred.
A new athlete centre is now on-site for contestants and for use by local athletes. Its premier feature is a multi-sport training tank, which provides a variable current for high-performance kayakers, canoers and open water swimmers to train during the off-season in a controlled environment.
Pan Am Spring Kayaking & Canoeing Courses
The centre is currently home to two international-standard courses, both of them Albano buoyed courses – the 1 000 meter North Course and the 2 000 meter South Course. The kayak races offer the most variety in individual events – the race lengths will go from 200m to 500m and 1km, with both individual kayaker events and races with teams of two or four. The canoes races only have individual or two-team events but follow the same race lengths. The 2015 Pan Am Games will also include a women’s canoe sprint event – the C-1 (individual) 200m – for the first time in the games’ history.
World Class Atheletes
Athletes from all over the Americas will be participating, but the Canadian team with its home field advantage and elite open water athletes is expected to be a strong contender across the board, bus especially in the canoe and kayak sprint events. The most iconic Canadian athlete wielding a paddle at the Flatwater Centre is undoubtedly Adam van Koeverden, who is the current world record holder in the K-1 500m kayak sprint. As a multiple world championship and Olympic gold medal winner, van Koeverden has been one of Canada’s top athletes for a decade and still ranks among the best in the world in his field. Representing the women, Laurence Vincent-Lapointe is a sprint canoer in the C-1 200m and C-1 500m with an immaculate record – currently she holds six world championship medals and has excelled in the sport since 2010, and the inaugural women’s canoe events at the 2015 games is her signature event. With other world championship medal winners such as Mark Oldershaw filling out the events, the Canadian team has big expectations for its sprint paddlers.
It’s for good reason that all the canoe and kayak sprint events will be exclusively held at the Welland Flatwater Centre for the 2015 games, and has been Ontario’s hub for those sports since the site’s development. The canal has some of the most placid and controlled flatwater a paddler could hope for, with a scientifically measured and controlled current and facilities that meet or exceed international standards. And the site is well-placed and equipped to draw a crowd from across Niagara – and beyond – to cheer on the teams as they race for the finish.
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