The wait is over.
Thirty-six years after whitewater slalom made its Olympic debut in Augsburg, Germany, in 1972, the same course served as the location where five U.S. paddlers earned their stripes to compete in the Beijing Olympics in August.
After the wakes settled from the final World Cup slalom race of the season in, the slots are now filled for the US Olympic Team in whitewater slalom.
Leading the pack with the best finish was Scott Parsons of Bethesda, Md., who was slightly ahead of, but still neck and neck with rival Brett Heyl going into the Augsburg event. Parsons secured the Olympic berth with a bronze-medal performance, also besting Scott Mann, who finished in sixth place, just 3.98 seconds behind Parsons. Heyl, who competed in Athens, missed the final by finishing in 15th places in the semis. He had the fastest run in the semi-finals but hit two gates (including the last) to put him outside the top 10.
It will be Parson’s second Games (he placed sixth in Athens in 2004. The previous events used in the selection process were the US Olympic Trials in Charlotte, N.C., where Parsons finished second, and the 2007 World Championships in Brazil where Parsons paddled to a seventh-place showing.
“It was an amazing race where the U.S. had all three entries in the top 10 of the qualifying heats,” says U.S. Canoe & Kayak’s (USACK) Brian Parsons. “Yet by international rules, only one boat per country may attend the Olympics.”
“The Olympic Team selection process is multi-event system that incorporates the World Championships (and Olympic Qualifier), a domestic trials, and finishes with a World Cup,” adds Parsons. “It’s a solid selection process. Each country can only send one boat per class–unlike track & field where they get to send three in each event. If we had three spots, a single Olympic Trials might work just fine. But when you only have one representative it’s hard to justify a single event used for selection.”
In the women’s K-1, it was Heather Corrie who was in a hurry to get to Beijing. Her 16th-place showing was enough to earn her the Olympic berth, ahead of both Zuzana Vanha, whose second run in the heats put her in 47th place, out of reach of the semifinals; and Caroline Queen, whose penalty-laden run relegated her to 30th place.
There was no such surprise in C-1, in which 19-year-old Benn Fraker, competing against teammates Jeff Larimer and Tad Dennis, was the only paddler to make it to the finals, finishing an impressive fifth place and earning the berth in Beijing. Larimer finished 18th and Dennis 29th overall.
Finally, in C-2, it was teammates Casey Eichfeld and Rick Powell earning the Olympic spot after Crane and McCleskey, with one more point than them going into the race, finished 15th in the heats and failed to make the semifinals. This automatically gave Powell and Eichfeld, who went on to finish in 12th place in the semis, the Olympic spot.
“The C-2 of Eichfeld and Powell raced their asses off and ended up with their best ever international result,” says Parsons. “Likewise, Benn Fraker grabbed the C-1 spot by finishing 5th in the World Cup Final and Heather Corrie threw it down when she needed it most. And of course the men’s kayaks–what can you say? All three (Heyl, Mann, Parsons) were in the top 10 of the qualifier and then it basically took Parsons to win a medal to fend off Scott Mann’s best ever World Cup result.”
The 2008 US Whitewater Team:
Men’s K-1: Scott Parsons
Women’s K-1: Heather Corrie
C-1: Benn Fraker
C-2: Casey Eichfeld and Rick Powell