Locals push
for Olympic
water games
on Deerfield

Last modified: Sunday, February 22, 2015

Will the whitewater slaloms of the 2024 Olympics take place on the Deerfield River?

That’s the hope of local outdoor enthusiasts, and of Congressman Richard Neal, who is pushing for “regional equity” in Boston’s bid for the 2024 Olympics. Neal, whose district includes the western half of Franklin County, not only hopes that a Boston Olympics might extend to sites in western Massachusetts but might serve as an impetus to build east-west railway passenger transportation between Pittsfield, Springfield and Boston.

Bruce Lessels, of Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont, and Ted Fay, a sports management professor at the State University of New York, invited representatives from the Boston 2024 committee to view potentially viable sites on the Deerfield River for Olympic whitewater paddling events.

“I’ve talked to a few different people about this, and I know there are several people in western Mass. who think it makes sense to bring some of the outdoor adventure sports here,” said Lessels.

“There are a lot of ideas being floated around. But we would support it and would be really interested in being involved in the whitewater sports,” said Lessels.

Fay said stretches of the Deerfield are “being considered,” but that any decision is at a very early stage. One issue, he said, is what type of course the International Canoe Federation committee wants. “It’s not certain whether the International Canoe Federation will be willing to accept a natural course, or what would be viable.” When reached for comment, Boston 2024 Chief Executive Officer Rich Davey sent a news release, saying: “Consideration of using the Deerfield River for canoeing and kayaking events is preliminary. Boston 2024 recently announced 20 community meetings in 20 weeks around the state. We look forward to meeting with folks in western Massachusetts about this, as well as many other exciting ideas on how to best involve the region in the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.” Fay and his University of Massachusetts Amherst colleague, Jim Dietz, have been directly involved with the Olympic and Paralympic games for nearly 40 years. Dietz is also vice president of the U.S. Rowing board of directors and head coach for the women’s rowing team at UMass.

If Boston is selected for the 2024 Olympic games, UMass Boston would provide housing for athletes.

Dietz and Fay are discussing the possibility with administrators for UMass Amherst to be used as a satellite village for athletes participating in any events in Western Massachusetts.

Fay said most of the modern- day courses for Olympics whitewater events are constructed courses, “designed to accommodate television, digital media and up to 20,000 spectators,” he said.

“The flip side is, if you can position it in a unique setting — that’s the challenge,” Fay said. “You really get to look at the viability and the connectedness of the venue to the local culture. There’s a recognition that there’s a paddling culture here that (Zoar Outdoor) and others have created.” Last week, Neal hosted a meeting in Washington, D.C., with the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation, Boston 2024 and with the U.S. Olympic Committee to discuss bringing the Olympic games to Boston. Neal made an appeal for “regional equity,” so that the entire state should benefit if Boston is selected to host the 2024 games. Besides suggesting holding volleyball, basketball and whitewater events here, the congressman is hoping to use this Olympic opportunity to push for rail service from Pittsfield through Springfield, Worcester and on to Boston, since it would help move Olympics spectators to various events, as well as benefit the state in the long term.

The group also discussed hosting Olympic basketball games in Springfield, the home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and volleyball in Holyoke, where the Volleyball Hall of Fame is based.

The city selected to host the 2024 Olympics is to be announced in 2017.

“Congressman Neal believes there is strong support for the Olympic Games in western Massachusetts and statewide,” said a spokesman for Neal. “That is why he would like to see sites across the commonwealth placed under consideration for different events. That would generate more support and interest in the 2024 campaign. With respect to funding, we are just beginning to have that conversation with the IOC and Boston 2024 representatives now.”


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