The Olympic movement has made sustainability of sport venues an important aspect for Games bid cities. In the first of a new series, we look at the venue used for canoe slalom's Olympic debut in 1972, the oldest artificial course in the world, in Augsburg, Germany.

When onlookers noticed the ten-year-old boy spinning and capsizing on the famous Augsburg canoe slalom course in 1986, they could not have known they were watching a future Olympic gold medalist in action.

It was the start of a love affair for Thomas Schmidt with the 1972 Olympic course that has lasted more than three decades. As an athlete it prepared him for his K1 gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and numerous world championship medals.

And away from competition he has had more than a passing interest in the preservation and development of the “Ice Channel”.  In 2022, the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics, Augsburg will once again host the world’s best paddlers when it holds the ICF world championships.

“I remember my first run on the course, everything seemed to look massive,” Schmidt recalls.

“I managed to go down until the spin dryer, there I got caught by the restaurant stopper and capsized. Luckily, I managed to roll and was as happy as Larry.”

Augsburg serves as a perfect example of the importance of developing sustainable Olympic venues. Schmidt has a long list of benefits that have flowed from the 1972 venue, not just for elite athletes, but also for the wider community and for sport lovers in general.

When was your first experience on the Augsburg course, and what do you remember of the course?

It must have been 1986, we were in Augsburg for an Easter training camp. At that time, I lived in Bad Kreuznach (central Germany near Frankfurt), we came along quite frequently as my older brother was part of the regional team and I had the chance to accompany him whenever possible. I remember my first run on the course, everything seemed to look massive, I managed to go down till spin dryer, there I got caught by the restaurant stopper and capsized. Luckily, I managed to roll and was as happy as Larry.

Augsburg is the oldest artificial course in the world. What role does it play as a community resource?

First of all, it is the base camp for the national team for daily training. This means athletes from all over Germany gather together for high quality training groups and to receive coaching from the national coaches.

The German Canoe federation as well as the Bavarian canoeing federation have established a number of coaching positions, accompanied by physios and sport scientists provided by the "Olympiastützpunkt" Bavaria.

Besides the high performance training, you can find two more canoeing clubs that undertake all sorts of disciplines (slalom, whitewater, freestyle, rafting, SUP, dragon boat) ranging from recreational up to elite sport at international level.  Additionally, there is a dedicated center for inclusive canoeing, meaning people with any disabilities can enjoy the whitewater sport in all different levels.

On top of that, the University of Augsburg is using the facility for their sport courses.  Kind of similar for the local school, the "Rudolf-Diesel-Gymnasium", this school is undertaking canoeing classes. At certain times the course is also used commercially for rafting with small groups.

I'm really impressed how well thought through the concept was

Over the years, a delicate network between all stakeholders had been established for everyone's joy. And, as if this is not enough, you can find people hanging around the course picnicking or sunbathing, unfortunately going for a swim although it is prohibited.

Cycling has become a lot more popular lately, the venue is in the middle of a long distance cycling track along the river Lech, so sometimes the canoeists have a bigger audience from cyclists. Last but not least, the Eiskanal venue is attached to the Siebentisch forest and the recreational lake called "Kuhsee", so there are walkers, runners and a lot more.

Did I mention the high number of events that take place for the different disciplines? Every year between 6-8 events attract people to come to the course.

There is much debate today about sustainable venues at Olympic Games. What do you think the Augsburg experience tells us about the potential for canoe slalom venues?

During my time as an athlete I didn't pay too much attention to this topic, but looking back I can tell there are great opportunities for such venues. Speaking for Augsburg, I'm really impressed how well thought through the concept was.

This underlines the long lasting history of the topic water in Augsburg. Since the Roman times water architects have understood how to use water as an energy source, keep potable and wastewater separate and maintain a delicate waterways network. No surprise, Unesco has awarded this achievement with a world heritage award.

The close location to the city center had certainly a positive impact for its development over the last five decades. This was supported by the engagement of all the stakeholders mentioned above. Having said that, the commercial use of the venue is still at a minimum as the main purpose is canoeing for the elite and recreational level.

One fact that impresses me the most is the intelligent use of water. The water for the course is taken from the river Lech and returns back into the riverbed after the finish line. There are no pumps installed, the natural drop of the river had been used. So overall, the smart use of water, combined with a perfect location and a maintained infrastructure over a long time paid out really well.

When designing new venues it is always a matter of considering the local boundary conditions to not only design, but allow it to grow to a sustainable venue. 

The course is undergoing significant redevelopment. What impact will this have on the course? 

It is really the largest redevelopment since its building in 1970/71. Pretty much all the buildings around will be renovated. This includes the two clubhouses, the former press tower, the restaurant building and the competition office and parking lot.

It will be great to have a renewed venue, hopefully with the former charm and the historical background we all remember.

Also the course itself will be renovated, in detail the natural grandstands including the technical infrastructure. This means the gate hanging system will be renewed, all wirings along the course will be modernised to match latest standards and future use.

The concrete channel itself has been reworked over the last three years and will not be changed. The riverbank will receive some concrete manicure for easier and safer access. All mentioned above has to consider a few boundary conditions. The entire venue is under historical protection, the area belongs to a restricted water catchment area, is UNESCO world heritage and should still be available for daily training.

You can imagine, this a balancing act, we currently have limited access for a restricted group of people. Currently, we have to deal with restrictions, but once it is finished I'm sure it will be great to have a renewed venue, hopefully with the former charm and the historical background we all remember. This shine should be visible at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in 2022. We are looking forward to showing this to the canoeing world.

Augsburg redevelopment plans 2020      

Canoe Slalom