Evy Leibfarth came up on the Nantahala River as a Bryson City, N.C., local, and last week cemented her place in Western North Carolina paddling lore as she swept women’s whitewater slalom kayak and canoe on the three-day U.S. Olympic/National Team Trials, April 12-14, at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., retaining her place as the top female whitewater paddler in the country for the third year in a row on the National Team.
Now she will compete as the only female paddler on the U.S. Olympic Team. The family is no stranger to competition: her dad Lee Leibfarth (now her coach) is a former U.S. Slalom Kayak National Team member and mom Jean Folger is a former whitewater paddling instructor.
Women’s slalom canoe makes its Olympics debut at the Tokyo Summer Games in 2021 — and therefore Leibfarth will be making history as the first U.S. woman to compete in that discipline in the Olympics, a competitive endeavor no matter what nation you hail from.
Leibfarth previously made history at the ICF Slalom Canoe World Championships in La Seu d’Urgell, Spain, in 2019 as the youngest (15) and first American woman to qualify the U.S. for a spot in slalom canoe at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 2020 Olympics were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and slalom competition will take place July 25-30 at the 2021 Summer Olympics. Four years prior she had medaled at the World Cups.
According to the Asheville Citizen Times, Leibfarth also qualified the U.S. for a slalom kayak slot, but had to “return it” due to Olympics rules that only allow one athlete to qualify for each sport. But with her win in both categories in Charlotte this week, the paper said, Leibfarth will get to compete in K1W and C1W in Tokyo.
“My second C1 run is when I knew I had it,” Leibfarth told the Citizen Times. “I started crying when I went through the finish line. I peeled off to the side for a second and gave my parents a hug. I think we were all crying,” the hometown paper reported.
According to USA Canoe/Kayak, with her win at Olympic Trials, Leibfarth has officially been nominated to the Olympic Team in women’s canoe. She will also be able to compete at the Games in kayak since, “we do not have a quota for an additional athlete in the quota,” the group said on Facebook.
In men’s canoe, Zach Lokken has 3 points from his trials win, Casey Eichfeld has 2, and Nathaniel Francis has 1. To earn points at the Prague World Cup, which will serve as the final selection race, an athlete will have to finish top-3 to earn 5 points, 4-10th to earn 4pts, or 11-15th to earn 3 points.
In men’s kayak, Michal Smolen has 3 points, Tyler Westfall 2 pts, and Joshua Joseph 1 pt. Points in Prague are the same as in C1, except three points will be allocated for a 11-20th finish.
2021 US National Slalom Team
1. Michal Smolen
2. Tyler Westfall
3. Joshua Joseph
1. Evy Leibfarth
2. Ria Sribar
1. Zach “Bug” Lokken
2. Casey Eichfeld: C1 Slalom
3. Nathaniel Francis
1. Evy Leibfarth
According to Team USA and the U.S. Olympic Committee, there are two major Olympic paddling disciplines:
The first is canoe sprint, which is sometimes referred to as flatwater sprint. The Olympic distances recognized by the International Canoe Federation are 200-meter, 500-meter, and 1000-meter. These races take place on straight courses with each boat paddling in its own designated lane.
The second discipline is canoe slalom (previously known as whitewater slalom), which is generally held on an artificial whitewater course. Athletes navigate a decked canoe or kayak through a course of 18-24 hanging downstream and upstream gates in the fastest time possible. Penalties are assessed for touching (2-seconds) or missing (50-seconds) a gate.
The sport has been part of the Olympic program since the 1936 Games in Berlin, the organization says. Through the sport’s history in the Olympic Games, U.S. athletes have earned 16 medal-winning finishes with Rebecca Giddens most recently reaching the podium for Team USA in canoe slalom with a silver in women’s single kayak (K1) in 2004.