Eichfeld, Smolen win U.S. Olympic selection in canoe/kayak slalom
The first stop of the canoe/kayak slalom 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials was held this past weekend at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Forty of the nation's best canoe/kayak athletes contended for a one-in-five chance at an Olympic berth.
Casey Eichfeld, competing in men's canoe single (C1), and Michal Smolen in men's kayak single (K1) were the only two paddlers that came into Charlotte with points accrued from strong performances at the 2015 ICF World Championships. On Saturday, both earned an Olympic selection, punching their tickets to the 2016 Rio Games.
Eichfeld, a two-time Olympian, needed only a top-two finish to secure an appearance at his third Olympics. A gate touch on Friday added two seconds to Eichfeld's time; he finished in second behind U.S. national slalom team member Zachary Lokken.
Casey Eichfeld reconvened on Saturday and won the men's C1. "I needed a little bit of pressure to bring out my speed," Eichfeld said, according to the Charlotte Observer. "It's an honor to be among a very small percentage of athletes who ever see their third Olympic Games."
Michal Smolen needed a third-place or better finish to win his first Olympic selection, and he did just that. Smolen controlled the men's K1 and finished the course with the fastest time on both days.
Team USA has not won a medal in canoe/kayak slalom at the Olympics since 2004. Nevertheless, top paddlers Eichfeld and Smolen are prospects to bring home a medal from the Rio Games.
The second and final stop for the canoe/kayak slalom U.S. Olympic Team Trials will be in Oklahoma City on May 7-8. The women's kayak single (K1) and men's canoe double (C2) spots have yet to be filled, and with those paddlers having no points in their respective classes from previous events, the three remaining Olympic slots are up for grabs.
Heading into Oklahoma City, Ashley Nee who edged Dana Mann, and won the women's K1 in Charlotte, holds the advantage should a points tie occur. Not far behind is third-place finisher Anna Maria Ifarraguerri, who still has a chance at the Olympic selection in the women's K1.
Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan won the men's C2, meaning that Eichfeld has a shot to double in Rio with continued success in the second leg. A ruling by the International Canoe Federation in May will determine if the U.S. will earn another quota in the event.
Casey Eichfeld | @themadkanuer