Ocoee River, Olympic Paddling Venue
Since the birth of competitive slalom paddling in 1933 on the Aar River in Switzerland, international whitewater competitions have been held on both natural rivers and artificial courses. The Ocoee River, paddling venue for the Atlanta Olympics, marries the best of the natural and artificial worlds.
Along the Tennessee-Georgia border in the Cherokee National Forest, the Ocoee runs through a lush rocky gorge. Yet over a year has been spent preparing the channel for the Olympic slalom, cleaning it of debris and narrowing it with 7-ton boulders cemented naturally into the existing bed.
The Tennessee Valley Authority controls the water flow from Ocoee Number 3 Dam, built in 1940 to generate hydroelectric power. A shallow rocky stream when the water is diverted, the Ocoee becomes a rushing torrent when the TVA opens the floodgates, averaging 90 feet wide and 4.5 feet deep.
The result is a Class II through IV whitewater flow, blending man's and nature's efforts into a great course. The Olympic course runs for a third of a mile, tumbling through 5 sets of challenging rapids.
Best Ledge - Early on, a paddler drops steeply through this natural chute, then gets hit by a continuous wave train that accelerates him through downstream narrows!
Smiley Face - The face on the rock smirks waiting for paddlers to choose the chute for the brave or to swerve into a gentler flow for the faint of heart!
Slam Dunk - The single biggest drop on the course, Slam Dunk creates a powerful hydraulic. The paddler entering the chute with a poorly aligned approach is likely to see river bottom!
Calihan Ledge - The Ledge generates the best surfing wave of the course. Two distinct channels flow to either side of a midstream shoal, with fast and choppy water and lots of waves!
Humongous - Named after the evil character from "Mad Max," this is the steepest pitch in the entire course. This section presents a series of riverbank eddies for upstream moves, followed by a series of difficult surf and ferry moves. Humongous demands every bit of an athlete's strength to come out on top!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication