Glenwood company builds Olympic whitewater venues
With the 2016 Rio Olympics set to come to a close tonight, it’s worth noting that Glenwood Springs had a direct hand in the kayaking and canoeing competitions in Rio, thanks to Whitewater Parks International LLC.
The Glenwood-based company designed and developed the artificial whitewater park in Rio for the Summer Olympics, behind the team of managing director Bob Campbell, and design director John Felton.
In fact, Whitewater Parks also designed and developed the artificial whitewater park for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, and the company is currently in the design stages for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Campbell, who has lived in the valley since the mid-1970s, played a huge part in the company getting involved with the Summer Olympics.
Following a stint as the head coach of the kayaking program at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, which Campbell said was the first kayaking program for a boarding school in the United States, Campbell went on to become the head coach of the U.S. National Kayak Slalom team at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
While at the Sydney Olympics, the International Olympic Committee was set to pull the slalom program from the games because of the lack of a flowing river. That’s where Campbell and Felton originally got their start in the drafting and designing of artificial whitewater parks.
“The IOC opted to remove the whitewater slalom from the games that year because there wasn’t any rivers anywhere near Sydney,” Campbell said. “So when the IOC took it off the roster, the International Slalom Community was up in arms and worked hard to find [a solution]. The way it was solved was by coming up with a group of people to create an artificial river with pumps to bring water up out of the lake and have it run down a prefabricated channel.”
In doing that, Felton took over the facility and really created this new entity. That’s when Campbell and Felton joined up to create Whitewater Parks International LLC. Following the Summer Olympics that year, the two teamed up and brought the entity of the artificial whitewater park around the world to other places that didn’t have access to natural rivers such as what the venue was designed for.
With his roots in Glenwood, Campbell set up shop in the valley, while Felton remained in Australia at the Asia Pacific office.
But unlike other venues built specifically for Olympic events, the Sydney whitewater park is the only venue from those summer games to have a positive legacy every year since.
“It’s the only one to have a post-games, in-the-black legacy, commercial operation every year,” Campbell said. “It was so successful that similar venues popped up in Athens and Beijing, but unfortunately they weren’t as popular after the games for those two areas.”
Following the success at the venue in Sydney, Campbell and Felton were then contracted for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, not only because of the success of the events for the games, but for the sustainability of the venue that allows those in host countries to use it for recreational activities following the games.
That, Campbell said, was a big reason why the IOC came to Whitewater Parks International, LLC, to tweak the original design from Sydney to fit London, which then led to contracts for Rio and Tokyo.
The venues take roughly 18 months to build on site. Work on the Rio whitewater park started in the fall of 2013 and was finished in the fall of 2015, which was an accelerated time frame, according to Campbell. Currently, Whitewater LLC is working on the production of the park for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
Due to that acceleration, the park was opened to the favela surrounding the venue, giving the community members a place to go in the middle of the summer to swim.
“They got to utilize this brand-new facility built for the Olympics before the world-class athletes could,” Campbell said. “To me, that’s one of the more feel-good stories that will come out of these games, as compared to the death toll, violence or the pollution in the water.”
According to Campbell, roughly 5,000 people got to use the park per day for the three months leading up to the Olympics.
That alone should bring a sense of pride to the Glenwood area — knowing that a locally owned company had a major impact not only on a world-class competition at the Summer Olympics but an impact on one of the poorer communities in Rio.
“There’s a serious sense of pride knowing that,” Campbell said. “Not only to see our hard work pay off, but knowing that we are going to leave a lasting impact in Rio once the Olympic games are over.”