Olympic Training : U.S. Paddlers Make Waves on Lake Hodges

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Times Staff Writer

The mist was still blurring the mountaintops when America’s Olympic canoe team wet its paddles in Lake Hodges Wednesday, irking fishermen who were angling for hefty big-mouth bass and leaving eager photographers in their wake.

Six men chosen from among hundreds of competitors are holed up this month in an Escondido motel, training for the international canoeing event in Seoul on the usually calm waters of the San Diego city reservoir. The team will skim across Lake Hodges until its departure for Korea on Sept. 15.

At first, Wednesday’s practice appeared to be marred by the media. Newspaper and television photographers eager to catch the six athletes in action during their first local workout created waves with their outboard motorboats.


Potent Muscle Power

But the canoeists soon left the distractions in their wakes, proving that--at least when Olympic athletes are at the paddles--muscle power is more potent than horsepower.

The athletes will be joined next week by a dozen other U. S. Olympic competitors, both kayakers and canoeists, in a crash course designed to hone their skills and ensure that they earn a few medals for their country.

The group and their coach, Csaba Szanto, laid out their competition courses at the lower end of the reservoir, near the dam, hoping to avoid the wakes of fishermen and the erratic courses set by sailboarders newly allowed on the city lake near Escondido.

On Saturday, however, even the lower end of the lake is unlikely to provide refuge. That day, the canoeists must compete with an America’s Finest City Week event--the Council Cup Regatta, an all-day competition that will add 50 or so craft to the popular fishing hole.

A Top-Ranked Competitor

Among the Olympians training at Lake Hodges is Bruce Merritt, ranked seventh internationally in canoeing. The 30-year-old Maryland athlete worked out in solitude Wednesday while other members of the team performed under the sharp eye of Coach Szanto. Szanto kept up with his charges in a high-powered speedboat and was accompanied by an aide with a video camera.

Jim Terrell, 23, of Williamsburg, Ohio; Ron Euric, a 20-year-old Illinoisan, and Sandor Nyerges, 30, a transplanted Hungarian now living in Washington, sprinted down the 6-mile-long lake to an accompaniment of shouted pointers from their coach and the whir of the video camera.


Terrell explained that the videotapes would be viewed time and again by the athletes as they search for ways to improve their technique.

To accommodate the U. S. teams during their training sessions, San Diego city workers have erected a large tent and built a special dock near the dam site.

Fishermen watched with interest the unexpected Olympic event that added excitement to the typically placid lake Wednesday. The athletes, meanwhile, appeared just as impressed with a boat dock display of snapshots of 9- and 10-pound bass pulled from the lake in the last month by the anglers.