Maggie Hogan from 2010 Pan American Championships. Photo: USA Canoe/Kayak

Maggie Hogan from 2010 Pan American Championships. Photo: USA Canoe/Kayak

This past weekend, sprint paddlers claimed their place on the US national team during the 2016 USA Canoe/Kayak Sprint Team Trials, held on Gainesville, Georgia’s Lake Lanier, the venue of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. For those who won their place on the US team the celebration is short. The US currently holds no Olympic positions in flatwater sprint. Team members have one opportunity left to secure places in the 2016 Summer Games: the Pan-American Championship, which will be held May 19-22 on Lake Lanier.

The Pan-American Championship is the continental qualifier for the Olympic games, meaning any athlete representing nations in North and South America who did not qualify for an Olympic berth during last year’s sprint world championship will be traveling to Georgia later this month to duke it out on the water for the remaining Olympic slots. Each event at the Pan-American Championship has one Olympic berth available to the winner, with the exception of the K-2 men’s and women’s distances, and the C-2 men’s 1000 meter, which each have two, equating to one boat.

For the US athletes competing in the Pan-American Championship, the path to the 2016 Olympic Games is difficult though clear. Win. With the first place finisher in each event capturing an Olympic berth, winning your event makes for the least complicated scenario. But even if an athlete falls to second or possibly third there may still be a glimmer of hope for a trip to Rio. An athlete can only claim one quota place for their nation. Some athletes compete in multiple events. If an athlete wins two different events, say for example the C-2 1000 meter and the C-1 200 meter, their nation will only win the berths in the C-2 category and the C-1 Olympic place will go to whichever nation finished the next best in the event. It’s hard to think of a better consolation prize.

Many of the nations competing in the Pan-American Championship have strong sprint programs, which makes this race no small task for the members of the US squad. One of the factors benefiting team USA during the Pan-Ams will be the absence of some tough delegations at the starting line during a few events. Nations who secured athlete quotas in events at the world championship cannot receive another quota in the same event, excluding them from contention in that particular race at the continental qualifier, a factor which can potentially boost US competitors toward winning an Olympic berth.

Tim Hornsby, who represented the US in the 2012 London Games, will be one of the top US contenders to watch. He will be racing in the men’s K-1 200 meter. Not having to face the perennial powerhouse of Canada, along with Argentina and Ecuador (who all secured their places in the men’s K-1 200 meter at worlds), makes Hornsby one of the top prospects for securing an Olympic berth for the US.

Maggie Hogan faces a similar situation in the women’s K-1 500 meter, where she will also not have to contend with Canada. This brings Hogan, who took Bronze at the 2015 sprint world championship in the women’s K-1 1000 meter (not an Olympic event), that much closer to Rio de Janeiro.

Although the who-has-to-race-against-who varies through the events, the focus of the US sprint athletes will be consistent — to push their bow across the finish before any other competitor. With the right combination of forward strokes, any of the athletes representing the US later this month at the Pan-American Championship have the opportunity to join Team USA’s Olympic roster and go on to Rio.

A photo posted by Chris Miller (@millerkayak) on

Complete 2016 US canoe/kayak sprint team roster for the Pan-American Championship:

Men’s K1 200m – Tim Hornsby

Men’s K1 1000m – Chris Miller

Men’s C1 200m – Ben Hefner

Men’s C1 1000m – Ian Ross

C2 Men’s 1000m – Ian Ross/Gavin Ross

Men’s K2 200m – Chris Miller/Stanton Collins

Men’s K21000m – Chris Miller/Stanton Collins

Women’s K1 200m – Emily Wright

Women’s K1 500m – Maggie Hogan

Women’s K2 500m – Farran Smith/Samantha Barlow

Women’s C1 500m (not an Olympic event) – Lydia Keefe Sampson

— Check out www.lakelanierolympicvenue.org for additional information and live streaming of the Pan-American Championship.

More from C&K:

Road to Rio: First tickets punched

Interview with Olympic champion and kayak designer, Greg Barton

Highlights from South Africa’s 2015 Green Kalahari Canoe Marathon