Want to ride the rapids like Evy Leibfarth or Michal Smolen? Execute a moto whip that Ryan Nyquist would praise? Tee up where Webb Simpson has played? North Carolina has sites for honing serious skills for the Summer Olympics, set for July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo.
U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte: With the world’s longest artificial recirculating river, the center has hosted USA Canoe/Kayak Team trials for four Olympic games, including Tokyo. Evy Leibfarth, Michal Smolen and Casey Eichfeld, a trio of Tokyo-bound North Carolinians, train at the Charlotte center. Beyond the whitewater, this summer’s Olympics debut of sport climbing adds to the drawing power of the center, which features a climbing facility with rope routes, bouldering problems and a 46-foot-tall spire. The Deep Water Solo Climbing Complex, the first of its kind in the world, contributes even more challenges for aspiring climbers.
Nantahala Outdoor Center, Bryson City: A USA Canoe/Kayak Center of Excellence in the Great Smoky Mountains, NOC has trained more than 20 Olympic paddlers and hosted such prestigious competitions as the Freestyle Kayaking World Championships. Those NOC-trained Olympians include hometown teenager Evy Leibfarth and Michal Smolen, who both placed first in events at the USA Canoe/Kayak Team trials to qualify for the Tokyo games.
Brevard/Transylvania County: Between Pisgah National Forest’s technical single track, DuPont State Recreational Forest’s slick rock and miles of twisty mountain roads, Transylvania County has earned a reputation as the cycling capital of the South. Matthew Busche moved here to train for the Tour de France. The Pisgah Stage Race and other events have attracted Spencer Paxson, Adam Craig and other Olympians. At the Pisgah entrance, Carmichael Training offers opportunities for focused training while The Hub & Pisgah Tavern and other gathering spots offer the possibility of hobnobbing with Jolanda Neff, Luca Shaw and other well-known riders.
Daniel Dhers Action Sports Complex, Holly Springs: BMX freestyle and skateboarding both debut at the Tokyo Games, and Dhers himself could earn a spot on the USA cycling team. His complex, which opened in 2013, stakes a claim as the country’s largest family-oriented, year-round training facility for biking and skating. Dhers was one of more than 30 professional BMX athletes who lived in Greenville at the height of the city’s “Pro Town” era. Another was California native Ryan Nyquist, currently a Wilmington resident and coach of the United States’ Tokyo-bound freestylers. Greenville remains a vital BMX destination with plenty of action at Extreme Park at Jaycee Park, where the Pro Town legend was born.
Tryon International Equestrian Center, Mill Springs: TIEC hosted the 2018 World Equestrian Games, where Team USA qualified for the Olympics in in jumping and dressage. While this season’s elite competition is closed to the public because of COVID-19, riders can work on their own skills on the Always a Good Ride simulator. Olympic medalist Ulla Hakanson vouches for its effectiveness.
Pinehurst/Southern Pines: A spot on Team USA is within reach for Raleigh-born golfer Webb Simpson, who knows his way around the courses at Pinehurst, Pine Needles and Mid Pines. The same can be said of most top golfers, thanks to the resorts’ hosting of U.S. Opens, U.S. Women’s Opens and countless other tournaments.
Tony Silvagni Surf School, Carolina Beach: As surfing makes its Olympics debut in Tokyo, aspiring surfers can seize the opportunity to learn from Silvagni, who won longboard gold for Team USA in the International Surfing Association’s World Games in Panama.
Thomas Brooks Park, Cary: With America’s pastime returning to the Olympic competition, aspiring athletes can address their goals with formal programs at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex, which shares space with a city park. Public batting cages allow more casual players to hone their skills. Meanwhile, catch a game at one of North Carolina’s 10 Minor League parks — a to-be-designated Team USA player might be on the field.
Hillside Park, Durham: College basketball adds boundless inspiration in North Carolina destinations, and training is available in cities such as Charlotte, where gold medalist Michael Jordan is majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Even without a coach, players can head to Hillside Park in the historically Black Hayti neighborhood and play on courts that the Grant Hill Foundation helped refurbish. Hill, an Olympic gold medalist and Duke alum, expressed his passion for Black art with an on-court mural by Sarahlaine Calva.
Other places for inspiration:
- N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, Raleigh: Inside the N.C. Museum of History, the Hall of Fame celebrates more than 30 Olympic athletes and three gold medal-winning basketball coaches from North Carolina ACC teams: Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kay Yow of N.C. State and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke.
- Duke Basketball Museum, Durham: The museum showcases a program that has produced seven Team USA gold medalists (Krzyzewski coached three gold medal teams; Gail Goestenkors was assistant coach for 2004’s gold medal-winning women’s team).
- Cape Fear Museum, Wilmington: In the superstar player’s hometown, the museum has a permanent exhibit titled “Michael Jordan: Achieving Success.”