Thursday, 17 September 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Sydney 2000 Olympic canoe slalom competition at Penrith Whitewater Stadium. Olympic dreams came to life at the purpose-built “River of Dreams” during 17 – 20 September 2000 with the world’s attention on Sydney and Penrith during this time.
Since then, the Olympic legacy venue has continued to attract the world’s best athletes for training and competition in Penrith, including the flagship International Canoe Federation (ICF) Australian Open in February each year.
Securing canoe slalom for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 took an international effort and set the foundation for a thriving legacy for the sport and community in Penrith to this day.
“The International Canoe Federation is proud that the spirit of solidarity within the international community, the commitment of Penrith City Council to help build and sustain the venue and the support of the NSW Government enabled the inclusion of canoe slalom in the Sydney Games, with spectacular success. The benefits of this special collaboration can be seen with the growth of the sport in Australia, annual world class events and the promise of a sustained legacy into the future,” International Canoe Federation (ICF) president José Perurena said.
Penrith Whitewater Stadium has contributed to the success of Australia’s top canoe slalom athletes: Jacquie Lawrence, Olympic silver 2008, Robin Bell, world champion 2005, Olympic bronze 2008 and Jessica Fox, who was inspired by Sydney 2000 at the age of six to follow her Olympic dream. Since then, Fox has won two Olympic medals, ten world championship titles and is set for her third Olympic Games come Tokyo 2020+1.
Jessica Fox at Australian Open 2019, Photo Col Boyd
“I was six when the Olympics were on in 2000 and I remember seeing some phenomenal athletes racing and on the top of that podium. They came back year after year and I even got to race with some of them Stepanka Hilgertova (CZE, Sydney 2000 gold medallist women’s K1) and Tony Estanguet (FRA, Sydney 2000 gold medallist men’s C1) 12 years later in London. The Sydney 2000 Games have inspired my dreams and Penrith became my home. I hope I can inspire many more generations of paddlers to come as well,” Jessica Fox said.
Sydney 2000 were the first Olympic Games for triple Olympian Robin Bell, who fondly remembers his home Games as the starting point of his Olympic paddling career that saw him fulfil his Olympic dreams and win a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Robin Bell – Photo credit Peter Heeley
“The home crowd was amazing and the atmosphere was intense. Such good positive energy coming from the crowd. I never experienced anything like it. Such a small packed stadium filled of Aussies and everyone was just having a good time,” Robin Bell described the atmosphere.
After Sydney 2000, Bell went on to finish fourth at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, won the 2005 World Championships in Penrith the year after, followed by an Olympic bronze medal in Beijing 2008.
Sydney 2000 – Photo Peter Heeley
“The Sydney Games gave me a taste of the Olympics and it certainly kicked-off my Olympic paddling. I knew I wanted to perform in that arena and I had something to prove on the Olympic stage. I did feel like I belonged mixing it up with the best paddlers and Sydney did set me up for Athens. Then coming fourth in Athens upset me enough, it drove me onto Beijing,” Bell laughed.
“Without a doubt Penrith Whitewater course is one of the best courses globally and has variety on the water for elite athletes,” Bell added about the Penrith Whitewater Stadium that saw him relocate from Perth to Penrith to follow his Olympic dreams.
“It’s exciting to see there will be further investment in this great course and the changes would add a different dimension, offering a more diverse spread of water options for intermediate and beginner paddlers. This will in turn bring more opportunities for the locals to get involved with this fantastic venue,” Bell said about the plans for the stadium.
Canoe Slalom Stadium at Sydney 2000 – Photo credit Jaroslav Pollert
A sentiment echoed by fellow Sydney Olympian Danielle Woodward.
“Penrith Whitewater Stadium is fantastic and is pivotal in the success canoe slalom has had. Without the course Australian Slalom Canoeing would not be the multil medal winning sport it is today. Penrith is a thriving satellite city now and the course brings international athletes out to Australia every year,” Woodward said.
“It is time to expand the stadium into a true park where families can come and enjoy the area and activities. A lot of courses overseas provide all sorts of adventure activities alongside the slalom course. It can be a centre of excellence for slalom and a park for all,” Woodward added.
The 1992 Olympic medallist, triple Olympian and Sydney 2000 competitor also remembers Sydney 2000 as a highlight of her paddling career that spanned three Olympic Games.
Sydney 2000 Canoe Slalom Team (left to right): Danielle Woodward, Andy Farrance, Kai Swoboda, Richard Fox (head coach), John Wilkie, Robin Bell, Mike Druce (coach), Nathalie McColl (physio)
“I remember the Sydney Games so well and have such fond memories because it was a home Games. It is difficult to describe the feeling of competing on home turf. I was so proud of Australia when I heard that the slalom venue was sold out every day of the competition. This was for a sport that was not well known as an Aussie sport. People just wanted to be part of the Games,” Woodward described her memories.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the origins of this iconic Sydney 2000 legacy venue, will mark the starting point of an exciting future for the Olympic sport of canoe slalom and the local community.
An Australian Government grant towards a permanent high performance facility at the venue means that the future of Olympic paddling in Australia is looking bright.
Federal Member for Lindsay, Melissa McIntosh MP has welcomed the release of the first tranche of the $2.3 million Commonwealth investment in the Penrith Whitewater Stadium.
“This funding is one of my election commitments, and I’m so pleased on this 20 year anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games that we are getting behind this iconic facility so it serves and inspires the next generation of Australian Olympians,” said Ms McIntosh.
“I’m passionate about encouraging healthy, active living in our community, and look forward to our local kids, families and aspiring athletes to have even greater access our local sporting and recreation facilities in the years to come.”
The revitalisation project, including an innovative proposal to use solar energy to power the pumps, is backed by Federal State and Local Government with Penrith City Mayor Ross Fowler continuing to be a strong supporter of building the future of Penrith as a major paddling destination.
“The facility offers great opportunities for the local community. We want to see participation in sport and paddling grow and to see a centre that is a visitor destination accessible by the whole community for active recreation, both on and off the water. The opportunities in and around the Penrith Lakes and the Whitewater Stadium are limitless,” Ross Fowler said.
“The proposed larger project will involve the building of a second Whitewater channel and the development of the surrounding parklands as active spaces connecting to the Nepean River and Penrith,” Fowler added about the exciting times ahead on Penrith’s water venues.
State and local government has been equally supportive.
Acting Minister for Sport Geoff Lee said the 20th Anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games is a special time in Australian sporting history.
“The eyes of the world were focussed on Sydney for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games 20 years ago, and we did not disappoint, hosting the best games ever,” Mr Lee said.
“Penrith Whitewater Stadium hosted a spectacular canoe slalom competition with some unforgettable memories for competitors and spectators.
“The legacy of Sydney 2000 continues 20 years on and the NSW Government continues to own and operate Olympic and Paralympic venues, ensuring there are world-class facilities available in NSW for athletes to train and compete.”
Sydney 2000 – Photo credit Caroline Thompson
Member for Penrith Stuart Ayres said the competition at Penrith Whitewater Stadium was a great success for sport and the Penrith community.
“No other city has leveraged the legacy of hosting the Games like Sydney,” Mr Ayres said.
“The Sydney International Regatta Centre and Penrith Whitewater Stadium have continued to evolve over the last 20 years, providing a lasting legacy through the hosting of state, national and international competitions. This is in addition to providing facilities and programs for hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”
The Federal investment will also serve as a stimulus for broader site development proposed by Paddle Australia to key stakeholders, Penrith City Council and the NSW Government. The aim of the project is to develop a visitor destination accessed by the whole community for active recreation, both on and off the water.
“We are very excited to be working on bringing new dreams to life and to continue working with Penrith City, the state and federal governments and other agencies to ensure a vibrant future for this venue, the local community and the sport as a whole,” Paddle Australia CEO Phil Jonesexplained.
“Canoe Slalom wasn’t on the initial program for Sydney 2000 and there was a lot of work done by the ICF, the Australian Canoe Federation and Penrith City Council to ensure that canoe slalom was reinstated into the Games. Had it not been for that work in 2000, the commitment of many federations, companies and individuals, we wouldn’t have had the success we have enjoyed over the past 20 years, in Australia and internationally. And with the new funding and the continuous support of everyone involved, we are very excited about the next 20 years and beyond,” Phil Jones said.
The exciting future plans for Penrith’s Sydney 2000 iconic legacy venue will be introduced tomorrow, Thursday, 17 September at a media event at the Penrith Whitewater Stadium (10-11:30), in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Games.
Paddle Australia’s current, past and future Olympic canoe slalom paddlers, including Sydney Olympian and Olympic medallist Robin Bell, as well as dual Olympian and Tokyo 2020 Team representative Lucien Delfour will be joined at the event by Melissa McIntosh MP, State and Local Government representatives, as well as CEO of the Australian Olympic Committee Matt Carroll, Olympian and Project Lead Richard Fox and Penrith City Mayor Ross Fowler.