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It is easy and free to register, and you can see the cool picture, but here is the article:

U.S. Flatwater Racing Is Taking on Water

Without a Home and Without Funding, Hopefuls Struggle to Keep Olympic Dreams Alive

By Amy Shipley

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, April 15, 2004; Page D01


Just after 7:30 a.m., Jim Farnum shuffles in bare feet and pajama pants into the kitchen of the ranch-style house he shares with as many as 12 other men and women , most Olympic hopefuls in kayaking. Farnum blows his nose into a paper towel, complains that the Lucky Charms box is empty, then carries a half-gallon carton of orange juice to a couch, where he sits, drinking straight out of the container.

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Brandon Woods, one of Farnum's teammates in a four-man boat, leans over a bowl of Cheerios and watches "SportsCenter" on one of the two borrowed televisions. Farnum's brother, Dave, sits next to him on a couch, eating Wheat Thins out of the box. Other kayakers -- unshaven, unshowered and uncombed -- begin to stumble out of the back bedroom, staggering in bare feet over the Mexican tile to the communal refrigerators: one in the back of the kitchen, another in the living room and a third on the porch, unplugged.

"We get in each others' way a lot," Woods said later. "You walk into the kitchen, you dodge two people. You open the fridge and wait for three people to move."

In the midst of final preparations for the U.S. Olympic trials for Flatwater Sprint Canoe and Kayak, which begin Thursday in Oakland, Calif., the paddlers awakened to another day in something less than paradise. They began splitting the rent for the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house in January after being booted out of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. There, they had resided comfortably in dormitories, receiving free room and board and access to state-of-the-art training facilities.

That changed after their coach, Paul Podgorski, was let go last November by cash-strapped USA Canoe/Kayak, the national governing body for a sport that strains to attract sponsors and support. Without a national team coach at the training center, there could be no national team members stationed there.

Podgorski, who lived in Lake Placid for 19 years, was earning $38,000 annually when he was fired. A former Polish Olympian, Podgorski has seen the sport rise and fall, but he said he now fears the sport is dying in the United States, largely because of what he claims has been mismanagement by USA Canoe/Kayak and partly because of decreasing funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

"The federation is in very bad shape," Podgorski said. "There is no money whatsoever. The Olympic Committee funding has changed completely in the last few years. It's put small sports in a really bad situation.

"What's the mission of this organization? Cutting this program is basically against the mission."

USA Canoe/Kayak Executive Director David Yarborough called the dissolution of the Lake Placid program an "economic necessity" brought on by huge decreases in sponsorship since 2000, when USA Canoe/Kayak lost its two primary sponsors (Champion paper company and Eddie Bauer). Meantime, Yarborough said, another hit came from the USOC, which he said cut funding by 20 percent via its new pay-for-performance plan.

"I feel every day there's not enough money to go around," he said by phone from Charlotte. "All of our athletes deserve more than we're able to give them. Our coaches are underpaid, as is everybody on our staff."

Jerzy Dziadkowiec, who is based at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., will lead this year's Olympic team, but Lewis said it is Podgorski whom athletes adore, which is why so many elite paddlers traveled to Lake Placid in the first place. Podgorski coached the '88 Olympic team to two gold medals and has earned a reputation as a brilliant developer of talent. Podgorski left the national team from 1993 to 1996, and the result was significant: The United States had its worst performance ever at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, with no athletes advancing to any sprint kayak finals.

After Podgorski was let go this time, the national team flooded headquarters in Charlotte with e-mails and letters of protest. "It fell on deaf ears," Farnum said, then added, "or dumb."

When Podgorski announced his intention of relocating to Florida, he unwittingly made a decision for his athletes.

"We said, 'Paul, we're not letting you go. We're following you,' " Lewis said. "We didn't even question. We just went. That's a good coach."

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As many as six of the eight athletes who found themselves suddenly homeless had been favorites to advance from this weekend's trials to the North and South American Olympic qualifier in Brazil, which serves as the real trials for the Games. Thirty to 40 junior kayakers who spent the summers in Lake Placid with Podgorski no longer had a place to train.

Yet despite the fact that the Athens Games were just nine months away, the paddlers had to go. The group included Farnum, 28, who worked part-time as a nightclub bouncer last year so he could buy a $2,250 boat. He sold it a month ago because he needed money to get through the trials. It also included Hawaii-born Brandon Woods, 20, who put off college to try to make the Olympic team and has been dipping into his stock fund ever since, and his partner in a two-man boat, Benjie Lewis, 21, who took a year off from Dartmouth to try to qualify for the Games. Woods and Lewis won a silver medal at last year's Pan American Games.

There was also Daniel Krawczyk, 26, a mechanical engineering graduate from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, whose father, Henry, and uncle, Gene, competed in the Olympics in kayaking, Henry for the United States in 1976 and Gene for Poland in 1968.

The athletes, four men and four women, loaded their boats on trailers, squeezed into SUVs and took turns driving non-stop to Jupiter, a small town about 100 miles north of Miami that had embraced them during annual races there. Podgorski knew he could find work in the area, and it was the only place everyone else could think of to go.

"The next thing you know, they were here," said John Zimmerman, manager of the Jupiter Outdoor Center. "They needed a place to stay; they needed beds and mattresses. All of a sudden we really had an Olympic team on our hands that had less funding than the Nigerian team."

Zimmerman offered the paddlers free use of his storage yard and boat dock and dug into his own pockets to ensure they had a place to sleep. He found a house just a few blocks from the Outdoor Center and put a down payment on the place to secure the $2,300 monthly rent.

He hired handymen to install bunkbeds and deposit mattresses so five could sleep in one bedroom, three in another and two (Podgorski and his wife) in the third. Another three occasionally slept on the couch and pair of mattresses on the floor.

The paddlers pay $200 to $250 a month for rent, depending on the number of athletes in town at a particular time. None has a single commercial sponsor, and none qualified for Olympic-related funding. Given the 5,000 calories a day necessary to fuel twice-daily sessions on the water with weight training in between, the national team members each average about $100 weekly on food, their greatest expense by far.

Farnum said his grandfather helps him pay the bills. Over the years, he also has worked an array of odd jobs: golf-cart driver at a country club, kayak instructor and chauffeur. He said he is actually looking forward to starting work at a local Home Depot, a company that offers Olympic hopefuls flexible schedules and steady money.

"That's going to be income every two weeks," Farnum said. "None of us is used to that."

Last week, the athletes pawned raffle tickets at a mixer organized by the Jupiter and North Palm Beach chambers of commerce. On Saturday, they essentially sold themselves for cash, offering kayak rides in their racing boat (named "Fury") for $100 a shot. All of the proceeds went to the non-profit foundation the paddlers had, in essence, become. Podgorski estimated that Olympic trials expenses would run about $15,000.

Zimmerman added to the pot, buying plane tickets for six athletes so they could afford the trip. Dave Farnum, a former kayaker, agreed to drive the boats to Oakland for $500. The paddlers planned to meet him there, then settle into their rooms at a local Motel 6.

"It's a sacrifice," Krawczyk said with a shrug. "A small sacrifice."

After the morning's workout on the Loxahatchee River, the kayakers rinsed themselves under the open showers at the Jupiter Outdoor Center as they do every day: It's easier than waiting in line at the house. For a while, the men could use only one bathroom; the four female national team members -- who already had left for the trials in California -- claimed the other. The women also took possession of the smallest bedroom, which featured a set of bunk beds and a twin bed, along with a hair dryer, full-length mirror and goldfish tank.

A set of handwritten "Kitchen Rules" taped above the kitchen sink represented the attempt of one of the women to bring civility to the homestead. (Rule No. 3 read: "Please use soap and hot water when washing dirty dishes -- do not just rinse!")

As the day wore on, the low-intensity chaos of the early morning evolved into lazy repose, frat-boy style. Sweaty shirts and shorts were slung over four clotheslines in the backyard. A power drill, stick of deodorant and box of envelopes adorned the shelf below a front window, alongside of which rested several kayak paddles and a potted palm.

Farnum, who turned 28 that day, arrived back from the morning practice to find an assortment of balloons bouncing against the kitchen ceiling, a box of Lucky Charms and two cupcakes on a pan decorated with icing-stenciled insults ("I hate you!" and "You are an idiot" were two of the nicer sentiments). Farnum's brother sang an off-key rendition of "Happy Birthday" as the other kayakers lounged around the television, eating bananas and Wheat Thins. Farnum immediately poured a bowl of Lucky Charms and doused it with milk.

Krawczyk, meantime, grappled with the question: How could he put off a lucrative career as a mechanical engineer for . . . this?

"It's my dream," he said. "It's been my dream since I was 10 years old to make the Olympic team and win a medal. I want to see if I can. One of the worst things possible that could happen would be to look back and say, 'What if?' "

Back on the water, Terrin Stucchio, just 15, is paddling his single kayak, doing hard laps behind the four-man kayak that contains Lewis, Farnum, Krawczyk and Woods. Podgorski, wearing a baseball cap and carrying a clipboard, chastises Stucchio for having left his paddle at the house.

"This is a very good lesson for you," he says from the dock as Stucchio struggles with an unfamiliar instrument.

"I'd say he's the fastest 15-year-old in the world," Podgorski says, as Stucchio paddles silently away. "But by the time he gets to 18, he'll have a tough time being in the top ten."

There are no collegiate kayaking programs in the United States. There is little exposure in high school. And now, since his firing last winter, there is no organized junior program at Lake Placid. How will Stucchio ever improve?

Lewis, the Dartmouth student, mulls over these sorts of questions as he drives south on the Florida Turnpike to his home town of Miami later that day. He usually makes the trip via a $2 ticket on the Tri-Rail, but today he has secured a ride. In Miami, he will borrow a pickup truck from star kayaker Angel Perez and drive it back that night to Jupiter -- in time, he hopes, for the fundraiser.

The next day, Dave Farnum will latch the boat trailer on the back of the pickup and begin to tow the kayaks to Oakland.

"We're fully cognizant of the mismanagement of our organization," Lewis said. "By getting rid of Paul, the organization actually set itself back a whole generation. If Paul hadn't invited me out to summer camps, I wouldn't be paddling today, guaranteed. Every other paddler who grew up in the system would agree with me on that."

Other things weigh on Lewis's mind. He admits he is worried about the caliber of the Olympic venue in Athens. Bad weather during a junior race there last year caused several boats to fill with water and sink.

Lewis suddenly seems to fear he is making the wrong impression. There is one thing, he says, that he wants to make perfectly clear.

"I'm more concerned about making the Olympic team than anything," he said. "I would gladly sink in the Olympics just to have the opportunity."

Liz N.

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We're not going to support a sport that's not .."Good TV"; it's always been this way in the US. NFL, NBA, NHL ; no problems there. ( Actually, a sprint finals is very exciting to watch in person, not on TV.)

It's not winning that counts, it's just getting off the sofa to participate.

Maybe NSPN should adopt one of the athletes, and have them paddle with us for a day later in summer after they get back from Athens. come to one of the Charles River Races.

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>We're not going to support a sport that's not .."Good TV";

I have always maintained that this is why professional soccer has not caught on here: no place to put commercial breaks in a continuous action game.

>Maybe NSPN should adopt one of the athletes, and have them

>paddle with us for a day later in summer after they get back

>from Athens. come to one of the Charles River Races.

What do people think of this idea? Connyak is supporting Cheri Perry's Greenland trip.

Liz N.

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