The coach and most of the quality paddlers will be back. There are some promising junior paddlers. But Romania will be deep and powerful as usual, and if the Russians and East Germans return to the Olympics, the American canoeing and kayaking team will need all the help it can muster at Seoul in 1988.
The Americans had an Olympics that would have been modest for many countries, but was the best ever for the United States. The U.S. sent eight boats to the canoeing and kayaking finals and although Greg (Buck) Barton's bronze in the 1,000-meters was the only high finish, it represented the first kayaking medal by an American in 20 years.
Barton, 25, has overcome a lot to be where he is in kayaking. When he was younger, Barton underwent four operations for clubbed feet and as a result his boat is specially rigged. And in the months leading up to the '84 Games, Barton missed some training with a viral infection and also with tendinitis in his right elbow.
A healthy Barton could mean more than a bronze in Seoul, because he works well with coach Paul Podgorski, who has schooled the paddler in conserving his energy for a finishing kick.
Besides Barton, the other strengths among the '84 men's kayakers have remained in training. They include Terry White and Terry Kent, who finished fourth at Lake Casitas in the 1,000-meters final for pairs, and Norm Bellingham, who at 19 was the surprise of last year's Olympic trials.
The nucleus of the women's kayaking team remains intact, with Leslie Klein, Sheila Conover, Shirley Dery and Theresa Haught preparing for Korea and only Ann Turner retiring. Klein, Dery and Conover were responsible for three boats making the Olympic finals and, along with Turner, paddled the kayak that took fourth.
Of the top U.S. canoeists, only Rob Plankenhorn has retired. The standout on the team is expected to be Bruce Merritt, who finished seventh at 1,000 meters last year.
Podgorski, the former Polish national champion who also coached Poland's national teams in the past, has been designated as the Americans' coach from the beginning this time and appears to have more backing than he had leading up to the '84 Games.
Podgorski was the choice of the paddlers to coach the '84 team, but was victimized by an internal struggle among canoeing authorities that distracted the athletes. Finally, in a compromise, Clyde Britt was named coach, but in effect Podgorski was still running the show.
Charles (Chick) Dambach, of Columbia, S.C., has been elected chairman of the national paddling committee. Britt lost that election and is no longer involved with the national team.
Podgorski has established a permanent national training center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Among the junior paddlers Podgorski will be working with is Mark Jacobson, a 17-year-old kayaker from Washington, Pa., whose races this year have been exceptionally fast.
Jacobson and the veterans will get their first international opportunities this year in the World Championships in Belgium in August.
The road to Belgium, much like the road to Lake Casitas, hasn't always been easy. Recently, Podgorski took a squad of paddlers to Montreal for some races with the Canadians and the Americans found that there was no hotel space at the prices their budget would allow.
It turned out that Montreal was in the middle of an Alcoholics Anonymous convention that had taken most of the space.
That apparently meant there was room at the bar, but not at the inn.