Slalom canoeist and kayaker Evy Leibfarth formally punched her ticket Wednesday to this summer's Tokyo Olympic Games, winning the women's canoe single (C-1) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Charlotte, North Carolina, about 150 miles east of where she grew up in Bryson City.
Leibfarth, who turned 17 years old in January, was just 12 when she took sixth in the kayak single (K-1) at the Rio trials in 2016.
She will be among the youngest athletes to represent the United States in Tokyo.
An Olympic discipline on the men's side for nearly three decades since slalom's second and solidified inclusion at the 1992 Barcelona Games, the C-1 will finally make its debut on the women's side in Tokyo, in effect replacing the men's canoe double (C-2). That means Leibfarth will have a chance to become the event's first female Olympic champion.
The North Carolinian secured Team USA's C-1 quota spot in 2019 with a fourth-place finish in Spain at her first canoe slalom world championships.
This berth, according to Team USA, sets up Leibfarth for allowance to compete in both the C-1 and K-1 at the Tokyo Games — the teenager also earned a K-1 quota spot at 2019 worlds, taking 21st overall, but athletes were required to choose just one event and she went with her higher-ranked discipline.
Leibfarth was dominant in Charlotte in both events. She won nine of her 12 total runs by at least 4.5 seconds each, only losing to twins and former teammates Michaela and Madison Corcoran, who recently switched allegiances to Ireland — once to Michaela in the C-1 and twice to Madison in the K-1, two of the three by less than a second.
Overall, Leibfarth tallied only 26 seconds of penalty time, incurring two-thirds of that in the C-1. Her worst and best runs came in Wednesday's C-1 competition: she had four penalties in her loss to Michaela Corcoran, but then came back in the second heat to win by an aggregate of nearly 40 seconds.
The teenager has only been competing on the senior circuit since 2019, when she finally met the age requirement of 15. But she has already been proving herself well, accumulating in the C-1 bronzes at the 2020 and 2019 World Cups in Slovenia; and in the K-1, another bronze at the Slovenia WC in 2019, and golds at 2019 world juniors in Poland and the 2019 Pan American Games in Peru.
No American has medaled in canoe/kayak – slalom or sprint – since Rebecca Giddens earned K-1 slalom silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Wednesday was the final day of slalom trials, which ran April 12-14 and are the first of two U.S. Olympic selection competitions in 2021. The second will take place June 11-13 during the ICF CSL World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic.
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials in canoe/kayak sprint were held March 19-20 in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida, where 18-year-old Nevin Harrison won the women's C-1 200m in 51.254 seconds to clinch a spot in Tokyo. The Seattle native obtained the world title in the event in 2019, surprising the canoe sprint community and becoming the first American to earn any world championships sprint canoe medal. The full results from that competition can be found here.