Meg Stone, director of the Olympic training site at ETSU, talks about the potential expansion of opportunities the program could bring to the university. (Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
More of the country’s elite athletes will take advantage of East Tennessee State University’s well-known sport science researchers to help them take on the world.
Athletics and administration officials announced Monday that the college has been designated as an official U.S. Olympic training site for canoeing and kayaking, bringing the national slalom team members at least twice this year to the Johnson City campus for strength and conditioning training.
Meg Stone, a former Olympian and the director of the Olympic training site at ETSU, said the expansion of the national athletic program would open up new opportunities for the college.
“This partnership with U.S. Canoe/Kayak, which is the national governing body of this sport, has allowed new doors to open,” Stone said at a press conference called Monday to promote the designation. “It makes ‘What if? opportunities,’ as President Noland often calls them, possible.”
The roster of athletes, who have either already competed in the Olympic Games or are likely to qualify soon for the national team, will be led by Brad DeWeese, an assistant professor of Exercise and Sports Sciences and the trainer of nine athletes who competed in the 2014 games in Sochi.
Two of his athletes, Steve Holcomb and Steve Langton, won bronze medals in the two- and four-man bobsled events last month.
The whitewater slalom team will remain based in Charlotte, N.C., and its members will still get most of their in-boat training at the U.S. National Whitewater Center there, but testing and conditioning will be administered by sport science professionals in Johnson City.
By applying the latest research in athletic training, DeWeese said the competitors will prepare for time trials in Charlotte later this month, then return again in August for testing before the world championships.
Members who qualify will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s a very big step for ETSU and the team,” he said. “Hopefully we can nail down some medals this year.”
Casey Eichfeld, a competitor in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics in both the canoe singe and canoe double slalom events, said he’s excited by the chance to take advantage of the college’s knowledgeable staff.
“It’s good to have the technical experience we need to further our training,” he said. “I think it’s going to work out well and make us more competitive for the upcoming competitions.”
Coach Rafal Smolen, a Polish athlete and coach who moved to the U.S. 15 years ago, likewise said the experience of ETSU’s staff will improve the team’s competitive chances.
“Experience plays a big role, especially when you’re competing internationally on such a high level,” he said. “In a few years, we should have a very strong team and have a lot of potential to win medals in Rio.”
In 2012, the U.S. Olympic Committee designated ETSU as a U.S. Olympic training site in weightlifting, and shortly after, began holding competitions and qualifying for the sport.
Stone said ETSU currently has six recruited athletes training at the training site who are enrolled as full-time students.