Montgomery’s new Whitewater Project could become Olympics training ground

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 6:43 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - There is an interesting connection between the Olympics and the new whitewater project under construction now in Montgomery. It could turn out to be the training grounds for the world’s biggest athletic stage.

The facility was designed by an Olympian, slalom canoeist Scott Shipley. Shipley, who retired from competing in 2004, designed the project Montgomery’s is modeled after in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Charlotte facility produced another Olympian, who just finished competing in Tokyo.

“It’s paddling down a really short section of river, like a whitewater and you’ve got to navigate between like 20 and 25 gates,” 17-year-old Evy Leibfarth explained about the sport. “And you got to go up some of them and down some of them. So it’s a lot of technique and a lot of precision and you get penalties if you touch or mitigate. And they go up to speed the fastest run down the course. Usually, it’s about like 90 seconds.”

Leibfarth was the youngest competitor in her event in Tokyo and made it to the semi-finals after doing most of her water training on the white water course in North Carolina.

“My dad always said try harder moves on easier water is a great way to progress cuz you don’t need you don’t need Tokyo you don’t need, like a really tricky, or like really big water, you just need like a place where you can learn really good technique and get faster,” Leibfarth said even she started slow. And that’s exactly the thought process for the Montgomery Whitewater project. Shipley envisioned a place for anyone to start.. and then get better.

“What we want to build there is, is a progression because we recognize that there are people out there like Evy, who is that top one percent of the one percent, literally, that make it to this very elite level, and we want to create that progression to get there. And so on the one side of our venue, we’re going to have an Olympic standard whitewater Park, very similar difficulty to what you saw in Tokyo, very similar in terms of character and interest and fun, but also a challenge for these top-level athletes when they put the gates in there. And on the other side, we’re going to create that progression so that families and church groups and school groups can come down and get in a raft and try this for the first time,” Shipley described.

Adding another facility like this in the United States adds even more to the whitewater sport for both Olympians.

“I’m sure that there are people watching and who people who watched the Olympics and the Olympics in Rio and the ones in London who saw the sport and really wanted to try it and just really didn’t have a place to so like the more watercourses we can get the more people who are going to be able to see the sport and then get in it,” said Evy.

“I think that’s important to Montgomery, and I think it’s important to them, to the southeast because people will come here to do this sport of whitewater. And I think the flip side is also true, Montgomery is going to invite the world to Montgomery. There’ll be world cup competitions here. There’ll be a World Championships here. There’ll be an Olympic team trials here and in the next four years, or eight years, or 12 years,” Shipley said. “At the end of the day, that the world will come to Montgomery, and so you’ll see paddlers from Chile, and from the Czech Republic, and from Germany and France and all these places. And so that exchange and that culture exchange is going to be very important for this site as well. "

Whitewater Montgomery is on schedule to open in 2023.

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