U.S. Slalom Team Set for London
In World Cup showdown, Eichfeld upsets Fraker; Parsons, Queen, and Larimer/Hurd also earn Olympic bids
Eyes on the Target: Casey Eichfeld takes aim at an Olympic spot. Photo by Jamie McEwan
By Jamie McEwan
Athletes from 38 countries came together to race on a horseshoe-shaped artificial course that sits beside Cardiff Bay. The World Cup program had to be shortened by a day when Friday’s competitions were canceled due to high winds and rain. On Saturday, with the slalom poles dancing in a wind left over from the storm, all athletes in the C-1 Men and K-1 Men classes moved directly to the semifinals.
In Men’s kayak, the semifinal was the deciding race. So, two months after the U.S. trials, it all came down to a single 90-second run down the windy course. Scott Parsons secured his third Olympic appearance by placing 11th, less than a tenth of a second from making the final. Parsons’ consistency throughout the Trials process has been impressive; he has won at each and every step of the way. Jim Wade had an excellent run, but his one penalty was enough, in this very tight class, to push him back into 18th. A couple of costly errors placed Brett Heyl into 29th. Sebastian Schubert of Germany won the event.
The process in C-1 Men was not so simple. For some time it seemed that the top two American C-1′s, Casey Eichfeld and Benn Fraker, had both made the final, but a penalty correction moved Fraker back one place, into 11th. His time was good, but his result was marred by four added penalty seconds. The third American C-1, Zach Lokken, placed 28th with a promisingly fast but penalty-ridden run.
It was still not over until the finals were completed, as Casey Eichfeld, who had placed 7th in the semifinals, had to place 8th or better in the ten-boat final to earn enough points to make up his deficit from the Trials. He paddled what he described as a “somewhat cautious” run to place 6th. The winner was the home-country favorite David Florence.
An interesting footnote to the C-1 race: this was also the selection race for the Slovakian C-1′s, which pitted reigning Olympic champion Michal Martikan against last year’s World Silver Medalist, Matej Benus. Martikan secured his Olympic return by defeating Benus by less than one second. What did they place? Fifteenth and sixteenth. That’s right, folks, the legendary Martikan won the Slovakian Olympic spot with a result that would not have been nearly good enough to win selection for the U.S.
2012 Olympian Caroline Queen. Photo by Jamie McEwan
In the Women’s Kayak class, in which Ashley Nee and Caroline Queen were tied in points, neither athlete progressed to the semifinals, allowing Queen to take the spot on the basis of her tie-breaking qualification of the Olympic spot last fall in Bratislava. Both athletes paddled well most of the time, but could not put together a mistake-free run. Queen placed 35th, Nee 37th. Emily Jackson, who paddled the water well but had trouble with the poles, was 43rd. Although obviously relieved to make the team, Queen also expressed dissatisfaction, saying, “That wasn’t the way I wanted to make it.” The petite Maialen Chourraut from Spain went on to win the event.
In Men’s C-2, all three U.S. competitors qualified into the 20-boat semifinal, with the veterans Dave Hepp and Scott McCleskey paddling like their old selves and placing an impressive 11th in the heats. But in the semifinals, the Trials winners, Jeff Larimer and Eric Hurd, cemented their selection lead by qualifying into the finals, where they placed 9th. Like Parsons, the Larimer and Hurd team won at each step in the selection process. Casey Eichfeld shook off his fatigue from his C-1 race the day before and, with partner Devin McEwan, posted an excellent time, but six penalty seconds pushed them back into 13th place. Hepp and McCleskey had trouble with some of the tight moves and placed 18th. C-1 winner David Florence earned his second gold medal of the weekend by teaming up with Richard Hounslow to win the C-2 event for Great Britain.
Larimer and Hurd are the 2012 U.S. Olympic C-2. Photo by Jamie McEwan
In the non-Olympic C-1W class, U.S. racer Micki Reeves placed eighth, and plans to go on to race in the next two World Cup events. The winner was Rosalyn Lawrence of Australia.
It was an emotional weekend. “I cried like a baby,” reported Casey Eichfeld. Not all tears, of course, were tears of joy. Then there was the understated approach. “I’ve had better days,” said Benn Fraker with a crooked smile.
The newly named U.S. Olympic team members, most of whom have spent more time traveling this year than living at home, will now take a well-earned break. “I’m looking forward to the routine of daily home life,” said Scott Parsons. Then, before the end of the month, back to London for more training on the Olympic course. The slalom races will take place July 29th to August 2nd.
I’ll be watching.
U.S. Olympian Scott Parsons earns his Olympic spot in Cardiff, Wales. Photo by Jamie McEwan