Escondido is trying to slice off a sliver of Olympic gold by wooing U.S. canoe and kayak athletes to a permanent "all weather" training site on nearby Lake Hodges.
Neighboring San Diego can boast about the Super Bowl and the America's Cup and its proposal for a $40-million Olympic training center, but the men and women who will represent the United States in the Olympic paddling events in Seoul next year have come to Escondido to test the water and the climate.
Twenty athletes, their coaches and retinue arrived in Escondido on Wednesday to towering clouds, wind and rain. But the weather cleared enough Thursday to allow them to wet their oars in the tranquil San Diego city reservoir and attend a welcoming party at night.
Western Site Sought
For now, the group is looking only for a West Coast site to hone their skills next summer before taking off for Seoul in September, according to Maureen Boyle, spokeswoman for the group.
But, if San Diego wins its bid to become a satellite training center for U.S. Olympic athletes, the paddlers want to stake out a local lake and find nearby facilities for a permanent all-season training site. Lower Otay Reservoir in South Bay is also in the running, Boyle said.
Suzanne Strassburger, an official with the Escondido Convention and Visitors Center, expects the warm welcome of the athletes by townsfolk to do the trick.
"It's not so much the financial side of it," Strassburger said, "it's the prestige of having Olympic athletes here in our city." She does admit that a training site for Olympians on Lake Hodges probably would boost tourism in Escondido, increasing tax revenues.
Escondido shared a brief moment of Olympic history with other Southern California cities before the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles when French track-and-field, judo and fencing teams tuned up for their events there, Strassburger said. The lure of American Olympians establishing a year-round, permanent training site in Escondido, she believes, would have a much greater impact on tourism.
Boyle said Lake Hodges appears to meet the prerequisites for the kayakers and canoeists. It is sheltered from winds by surrounding hills. It has the length for 1,000-meter courses, an even bottom, access roads, and nearby housing. Both Otay and Hodges are San Diego city reservoirs but boating activities are permitted.
If Hodges is chosen as a permanent training lake, Boyle said, Olympic officials would expect local interests to provide some additional facilities, including lakeside living quarters and a boathouse, she said.
Pete Hogan, administrative aide to San Diego Councilwoman Gloria McColl, said San Diego will be host to the paddlers Friday night at a reception at the recently opened Omni Hotel downtown.
Hogan said the group of canoeists and kayakers is only one of several expected to arrive to look over the San Diego landscape to determine whether major year-around Olympics training sites could be located here. Hogan and McColl have been working with a San Diego task force for more than a year, seeking a suitable site for a major complex and a financing plan to build a $40-million center, which would include a 600-bed dormitory, conditioning facilities and other support features for the athletes.
The task force has been unsuccessful in obtaining sites at Balboa Park--where the old Navy Hospital buildings are located--or on the UC San Diego campus in La Jolla, he said, but has found three or four other suitable locations. A proposal will be ready for the arrival in San Diego of U.S. Olympic Committee officials Nov. 13, he said.
Training centers are now located at Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., at Lake Placid, N.Y., and in Marquette, Mich. Boyle said San Diego has an exclusive negotiating contract with the Olympics group for an all-weather training site.
The 20 canoeists and kayakers, ranging in age from 19 to 32, are also undergoing physical tests as part of their stay. Mercy Hospital and San Diego State University facilities are being used to judge their level of health and to determine whether training regimens should be altered.
Boyle said the paddlers now depend on Florida training sites for winter training and conduct most of their practice sessions at Eagle Creek near Indianapolis, the home of the National Paddling Committee, which governs their sport.
Among the athletes now in Escondido is Greg Barton, 27, of Newport Beach, who took a gold medal in the Pre-Olympic Regatta held in Seoul earlier this month.