By Jamie McEwan
For some international racers, the first World Cup Slalom of the season, to be held this weekend on an artificial course in Cardiff, Wales, will act as a convenient warm-up for this summer’s London Olympics. For others, those who have failed to qualify for one of the few Olympic starting slots, it will serve as a chance to vindicate their national team status by competing for the World Cup podium. But for U.S. Team members, this weekend’s event will choose the Olympic team.
It has been eight weeks since the U.S. Olympic Trials—but no, the Olympic team has not been finalized. (Imagine holding your breath for eight weeks.) Selection is based on a point system, and up to 25 points can be earned at the Cardiff World Cup. The biggest lead in the U.S. selection process? Two points.
The five members of the 2012 U.S. Slalom Olympic team will be chosen by noon on Sunday, at the latest.
Having qualified the Olympic entry for the U.S. in Bratislava, and then won the Olympic Trials in April, two-time Olympian Scott Parsons leads the Men’s kayak class by two points over hard-charging Jim Wade. Wade will have to place in the top 20 this weekend, and at least three places in front of Parsons, to earn himself the right to march in the Olympic parade. 2004 Olympian Brett Heyl, currently in third place by points, would have to best Parsons by four places.
It has been done before. In 2008 Heyl won the trials—but Parsons snatched the spot away at the Augsburg World Cup.
Davidson undergraduate Caroline Queen qualified the women’s Olympic entry in Bratislava, Slovakia last fall. But her longtime friend and paddling partner, Ashley Nee, won the Olympic Trials. As a result they are tied in points.
If neither places in the top 20, and they remain tied, it is Queen who will get the nod, as the Olympic entry qualifier. But it they break into the semifinals, it’s simply winner take all. Unless Freestyle World Champion Emily Jackson can make up her two-point deficit to take it away.
Men’s Doubles Canoe
In the C-2M class the team of Jeff Larimer and Eric Hurd enjoy the same two-point lead as do Parsons and Fraker in their respective singles events. Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan are in second place, and the veteran team of Dave Hepp and Scott McCleskey are third. The same math applies, then, as for the Men’s Kayak class.
Men’s Singles Canoe
Benn Fraker, the highest placing American Canoe and Kayak athlete in the Beijing Games (he was sixth), leads the selection race in C-1M by two points. The dependable Casey Eichfeld is in second, and U.S. Senior Team newcomer Zach Lokken is third.
Eichfeld will be the only U.S. athlete vying for a spot in two different classes—in both of which he sits in second place. He has been in this position before—in 2008—when he and a different partner (Ricky Powell) qualified for Beijing on the strength of their placing in the Augsburg World Cup.
There may be some surprises blowing in that chilly Cardiff wind.