Road to Rio: US Team Trials Held at Grand Opening of Oklahoma Whitewater Center

Oklahoma City's Riversport Rapids whitewater complex is officially open

The skyline of Oklahoma City provides a backdrop for Riversport Rapids, Oklahoma City’s $45.2 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center which opened last year. Photo by Zoie Clift.
Women's K1 competitor Seu Jacobi before the start of the 2016 Olympic Team Trials in Canoe/Kayak Slalom.
Recirculating channels pump treated water to create Class II-IV rapids at the new whitewater facility.
Men's K1 competitor Tad Dennis exiting the water after a run.
Casey Eichfeld paddling in the men's C1 during the first day of the two-day competition. Eichfeld is a three-time Olympian and had already secured a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in men's C1.
Tracy Hines racing in the women's C1 during day one of the event.
Michal Smolen competing in the men's K1 during the 2016 Olympic Team Trials. Smolen had already qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in K1.
Riversport Rapids, which is next to the Oklahoma River, now offers rafting and paddling options for recreational users and elite athletes.
The facility includes a conveyer belt that pull rafts, canoes and kayaks to the top of runs.
Men's K1 competitor Mark Poindexter checking the results on day one of the trials.
A special celebration event to commemorate the opening weekend of Riversport Rapids took place on Saturday night.
Avery Davis running the course in the women's KI during day two of the competition.
Anna Maria Ifarraguerr is all smiles as she competes in the women's K1.
Ashey Nee racing in the women's K1 during day two of the event. As a result of her runs, Nee was nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team in that category, pending confirmation of the Olympic quota slots.
Zachary Lokken competing in the men's C1 during the U.S. Olympic Trials in Oklahoma City's Boathouse District.
Men's C1 competitor Ian Borrows on the course.
Mark Poindexter slides under a gate.
Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan competing in the men's C2. As a result of their victory during the trials, the duo are being nominated to the 2016 US Olympic Team in C2 pending confirmation of the Olympic quota slots. Eichfeld is already part of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in C1.
The rapids of the Olympic Team Trials course.
Ian Borrows takes a focused stroke in the men's C1 competition.
Tyler Uthus-Westfall reacts after his last run during the men's K1, which landed him a spot on the U.S. National Team.
Devin McEwan and Casey Eichfeld celebrate their victory in the men's C2 at an awards ceremony post Olympic Team Trials. Attending the event was Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (far right).
Michal Smolen at the awards ceremony. Smolen had already qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in K1 prior to the competition.
Women's K1 competitor Ashley Nee who is nominated to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team pending confirmation of the Olympic quota slots.
A group shot during the awards ceremony.

Words by Joe Potoczak
Photos by Zoie Clift

UPDATED 5/24/16: Make it official — Ashley Nee and Devin McEwan are going to Rio.

Devin McEwan will be joining his canoe partner, and men’s C-1 Olympian, Casey Eichfeld to compete in the men’s C-2 at the 2016 Olympics. Meanwhile Ashley Nee will join the lineup for the women’s K-1 in the Summer Games. Both athletes qualified for Team USA earlier this spring by winning the team selection races in their respective division, however, their Olympic fate was still in the hands of the ICF, regarding a judgment on the distribution of quota places the US had earned through the Pan-American Games in the summer of 2015. The ICF has announced their ruling in favor of McEwan and Nee participating — officially completing the roster for the 2016 USA Canoe/Kayak Olympic slalom team.

The crashing waves and hanging gates of Oklahoma City’s Riversport Rapids whitewater park, provided the final on-water hurdle for U.S. slalom athletes seeking a place on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team. With the final results in, both Ashley Nee in the women’s K-1, and the duo of Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan in the men’s C-2, captured the roster spots for Team USA. Though they have won the team selection, which of these individuals will ultimately be bound for Rio still remains unclear.

Women’s K-1:

Ashley Nee held off Dana Mann to claim the Olympic position in the Women’s K-1. Mann finished first in the Oklahoma City event, but Nee placed right behind her in second. At five points a piece, Nee’s tie breaker advantage came into play, earning her the spot on Team USA. Nee has come close to appearing in the Olympics twice before. In 2008 a shoulder injury cut her Olympic campaign short, and in 2012 she would lose a tough team trial tie breaker to London Olympian, Caroline Queen. Now in 2016 Nee is ready to make her Olympic debut.

"It has been a year-long process to qualify for the Olympics, and I am feeling pretty relieved and motivated," says Nee. "Representing the U.S. at the Olympics means that you are a small part of the best team in the world. I’m honored to be apart of it and thankful for the people that came before me."

Men’s C-2:

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Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan stood atop the podium once again in Oklahoma City, taking home the C-2 team selection. Eichfeld, who will also be competing in the men’s C-1 at Rio, will be making his third Olympic appearance. Devin McEwan, son of two-time Olympian Jamie McEwan, will be looking to begin an Olympic legacy of his own.

Women’s C-1:

Sage Donnelly again finished on top in the second U.S. team trial event, winning the top U.S. roster spot in the boat class. While women’s C-1 is not an Olympic discipline, the junior freestyle world champion will go on to represent the U.S. at this summer’s ICF world cup races.

Both Nee, and the team of Eichfeld and McEwan, will now have to wait in anticipation of an ICF decision, as to how USACK will be awarded two quota places won at the Pan-American Games, before they are officially on their way to the Olympics. USACK’s hope is the ICF will allow them to split the places based on USACK’s interpretation of Olympic qualification: one to Ashley Nee in the women’s K-1, the other to Devin McEwan in the men’s C-2 — seeing as Casey Eichfeld already has his own berth in the men’s C-1, which he qualified for at the 2015 world championship. Traditionally, two spaces are used together to create the C-2 berth.

Though nothing is official, USACK has communicated that if their request is not approved, the place will go to the women’s K-1 and the C-2 berth will be lost. The ICF will announce the Olympic-fate determining decision later this month.

Complete U.S. Olympic Slalom Team:

Men’s K-1 – Michal Smolen

Men’s C-1 – Casey Eichfeld

Women’s K-1 – Ashley Nee*

Men’s C-2 – Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan*

*Pending ICF decision

— Check the full results of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Canoe/Kayak Slalom at TeamUSA.org

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