CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sometimes there were six. Other times there were 10. Most of the time, it was hard to keep count. Welcome to Scott Parsons’ unofficial pre-Olympic qualifying training center: part home, part gathering place, part “Animal House”?
The two-time Olympian laughed, reasoning, for him, there was no better way to prepare for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Whitewater Slalom on April 12-14 at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C., than to move into a house on Lake Norman about a month before the competition. Parsons said it proved to be the right place to relax and focus.
And who can argue with his results?
Parsons recorded the fastest men’s single kayak run of Day 3 (93.96 seconds), lifting him to the Trials title. The performance also reserved the 33-year-old a spot among 14 U.S. paddlers who will compete at the World Cup in Cardiff, Great Britain (June 8-10). In a sport dominated by Europeans, the U.S. slalom team last medaled in the Olympic Games in 2004.
Parsons credited the time he spent “hanging out” with American and Canadian competitors at the picturesque lakefront rental, about 15 miles north of Charlotte, for developing the right mindset to tackle USNWC’s turbulent water.
“All of us just kept loose … it was great,” said Parsons, who is attempting to complete a personal trifecta. He also participated in the ’04 and ’08 Games.
So how many stayed in Lake Norman?
Well, Parsons joked, “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble …”
Staying out of trouble on the ever-changing USNWC course proved, at times, more difficult. The fans were treated to a show during the three days of timed events.
After all the time he spent here the past several weeks, Parsons described the artificial whitewater as: “The biggest thing is how unpredictable it is. It’s all about getting used to the unpredictability and overcoming its unpredictability.”
As the winner of the women’s single kayak competition, Ashley Nee added: “The water here is the most challenging in the United States.”
Describing her performance as one of “redemption,” Nee moves on. Four years ago, Nee, who was recovering from a shoulder injury, missed an Olympic opportunity by .02 seconds. “It takes .01 seconds to blink,” she said, shrugging. Nee does not blame the injury, joking she blinked three times too many during the race.
Opening strong on Day 3, Nee executed a run of 111.29 seconds, helping her capture the women’s single kayak trials, outdistancing second-place finisher Caroline Queen and third-place Emily Jackson.
Paced by a 95.94-second run on Saturday, Benn Fraker topped the men’s single canoe event, followed by Casey Eichfeld and Zach Lokken. Fraker and Eichfeld competed in the 2008 Games.
Jeff Larimer-Eric Hurd paced the double-canoe field, with Eichfeld-Devin McEwan placing second and Scott McCleskey-Dave Hepp third. In the women’s single canoe, Micki Reeves earned the gold medal, followed by Colleen Hickey and Hailey Thompson.
For Hurd, a trip to the World Cup means another chance to reach the Olympic Games. At 25, Hurd has been involved in the national team for the past 17 years and is seeking for his first trip to the Games. Four years ago, “it was a narrow miss,” he said.
The U.S. U-23 slalom squad also was announced April 14, featuring Michal Smolen, Ricky Powell and Isaac Levinson for men’s K1; Nee, Queen and Jackson for women’s K1; Fraker, Eichfeld and Tyler Hinton for men’s C1; and Reeves and Hickey for women’s C1.
Joining Parsons at the World Cup will be kayakers James Wade and Brett Heyl, a 2004 Olympian.
It was appropriate the USNWC fireworks display was executed as Parsons spoke of a possible third trip the Games.
“I’m not there yet,” he said with a grin. “I’m getting pretty excited at the prospect.”
Parsons could improve his World Cup chances if he follows the template he established in Charlotte: find the right lakefront rental, relax and focus. For those who may join Parsons’ retreat, plan on watching one of his favorite movies: “The Great Escape,” “The Big Lebowski,” or “Casablanca,” and listening to an assortment of bands — which one, he doesn’t know. “I have too many favorites,” he said.
Oh, and his favorite dry hobby, one he does outside of the water, Parsons had to think for a moment. He finally came with an answer: “Talking about kayaking.”