U.S. National Whitewater Slalom

Whitewater paddlers qualify for shot at London Olympics

Veteran Parsons, Davidson’s Queen among 14 to qualify for shot at London Olympics

CorrespondentApril 15, 2012 

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Caroline Queen powers through the rapids during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials for Canoe Slalom at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on April 14, 2012. MELISSA MELVIN-RODRIGUEZ - mrodriguez@charlotteobserver.com

MELISSA MELVIN-RODRIGUEZ — MELISSA MELVIN-RODRIGUEZ - mrodr

Two-time Olympian Scott Parsons and Davidson College student Caroline Queen won spots on the U.S. National Whitewater Slalom Team on Saturday at the U.S. National Whitewater Center and a chance to earn their way on to the U.S. Olympic team for the Summer Games in London.

Parsons and Queen were among 14 paddlers who qualified for the national team during three days of timed races at the center and will move on to competition at the Canoe Slalom World Cup in Cardiff, Great Britain from June 8-10.

Points earned at the Cardiff races, combined with those from Charlotte, will determine the five athletes — paddling men’s kayak, men’s single canoe, men’s double canoe and women’s kayak — who will represent the U.S.

Parsons turned in the fastest kayak run of the day, 93.96 seconds, to help him take first among the three-man team. Other kayak team members are James Wade of Boise, Idaho, and Brett Heyl of Charlotte, who competed in the 2004 Olympics.

“The level of competition is extremely high,” said Parsons, of Bethesda, Md., who brings experience from the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. “If you come out with a win, it’s pretty incredible. I feel really fortunate on how I performed.”

Kayaker Michal Smolen, 18, of Gastonia would have finished second overall, but he’s not yet a U.S. citizen and thus ineligible for the Olympics, according to USA Canoe/Kayak, which sponsored the trials.

Queen finished second in the women’s kayak trials to Ashely Nee of Bethesda, Md., bolstered by a first-pace run of 111.29 seconds in her first race of the day. Queen had a third-place run of 112.43 seconds and a seventh-place run of 211.44 seconds after recording the fastest runs in the first two days. Emily Jackson of Rock Island, Tenn., was the third member of the national team.

Another 2008 Olympian, Benn Fraker of Peachtree City, Ga., topped the men’s single kayak team, helped by a blazing 95.94-second finish in his first race. Second was 2008 Olympian Casey Eichfeld of Drums, Pa., followed by Zach Lokken of Durango, Colo.

Speedsters Jeff Larimer of Marietta, Ga., and Eric Hurd of Gastonia led the men’s double canoe field, with a one-two finish in their two slalom races. Second were Casey Eichfeld and Devin McEwan of Salisbury, Conn., followed by Scott McCleskey of Sylva and Dave Hepp of Charlotte.

William Irving, national teams director, said the U.S. Olympic team will have a good chance of winning a medal in a sport dominated by Europeans. The last U.S. slalom medal was in 2004.

“We’re definitely in contention for a medal in men’s kayak and men’s canoe,” he said. “If our athletes can stay fast and close, anything can happen.”

The races were open to anyone, and 13-year-old Tyler Smith of Charlotte, a seventh-grader at Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, paddled in the men’s kayak field. Smith said he began training at the whitewater center a year ago. His best run Saturday, 129.01 seconds, was good enough for 20th of 29.

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