U.S. Paddlers Back to Business as Olympic Training Center Re-opens in California
CHULA VISTA, Calif. — The United States Sprint Canoe/Kayak Team returned to the business of training Wednesday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif. after dangerous wildfires raging nearby prompted a precautionary closure of their complex.
Sixteen paddlers and two coaches including 2000 and 2004 Olympic paddler Rami Zur (Chula Vista, Calif.), 2004 Olympians Jeff Smoke (Buchanan, Mich.) and Carrie Johnson (San Diego, Calif.) and U.S. sprint coach Nathan Luce (Chula Vista, Calif.) were among the 41 U.S. athletes, 36 staff and 7 coaches at the Chula Vista complex that found temporary refuge with friends and family in the area after Monday’s evacuation.
After issuing an air-quality test early Wednesday, health officials declared the site safe for athletes to return.
“Everyone is in good spirits and glad to be back and have plan of normalcy,” said Luce, who put his paddlers through an indoor training session on Wednesday and expects to be back on the water once air quality completely improves. “The USOC training center staff has been super helpful in ensuring that everyone was safe and had a place to stay.”
After evacuating late Monday evening, the Olympic Training Center was closed due to extreme fire danger. The Training Center’s immediate threats were the Harris Fire burning south of the facility and the Mt. Miguel fire burning to the northeast of the center. On Tuesday, area winds and temperatures decreased alleviating the threat of danger to the Olympic Training Center.
Among the firefighters battling the nearby blazes are two former U.S. Canoe/Kayak National Team members; Olympians Chris Barlow, (canoe/kayak, 1992) of San Diego Fire and Rescue and Stein Jorgensen (canoe/kayak, 1996, 2000) of the City of Chula Vista Fire Department.
“We have a huge amount of respect for the firefighters and medical personnel that are working so hard to help the community,” said Luce. “We want to send our thoughts and hearts out to them and their families and the other firefighters who are battling the fires. Those guys are doing heroes work.”