USA Canoe/Kayak announces Silvan Poberaj and Rafal Smolen as 2012 U.S. Olympic Slalom Team Coaches, pending final approval by U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun. Together, Smolen (pictured above) and Poberaj have coached seven Olympic Games and, in 2012, they will oversee five athletes - the maximum number of slalom paddlers by one country.
USA Canoe/Kayak National Teams Director William Irving has been named Team Leader for the U.S. in London. He will oversee all seven Olympic athletes, including sprint kayakers Carrie Johnson and Tim Hornsby.
Poberaj is the longest tenured national team coach that USA Canoe/Kayak has ever had, signing on with Team USA in 1994. London 2012 will be his fifth Olympics as coach of the United States. Born in Slovenia, he coached the Slovenian Olympic Team in 1992, adding a sixth Games to his resume.
Smolen joined USA Canoe/Kayak in 2011 as its Slalom National Development and Coaching Manager. In that capacity, he worked with Poberaj to coordinate training camps, selection procedures and adherence to the high performance plan, all with an eye toward success at the international level. The Polish-born coach previously coached the Nantahala Racing Club in Western North Carolina. He coached numerous U.S. Senior and Junior National Teams, including the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team at the Sydney Games. He coached the Canadian National Slalom Team in 2005 and the Chilean National Team at the 2008 Olympics. His 18-year-old son, Michal, is currently competing for the U.S. at the World Cup No. 2 in Pau, France.
Casey Eichfeld, 2012 Olympic Nominee in Men’s Canoe: “Rafal and Silvan have been coaching me for a number of years now. In 2007, I started to make my transition to the Charlotte area so that I could train with Rafal fulltime. In my years training with Rafal, he has seen me in just about every phase I could have. He made my transition back to the C-1 from the C-2 in 2009 as smooth as it could have been. He would tell me that I am the reason that I made the Olympic C-1, but it is his daily coaching and playful sarcasm that has helped me get this far and makes me feel better every time it hurts.”
Joe Jacobi, USA Canoe/Kayak CEO: "Our Slalom Olympic Team is extremely fortunate to be led by William and coached by Silvan and Rafal. We have a great mix of experience and bold leadership within this group. They're confident in the team but willing to push to the edge, too. It's a good balance for us heading into London."
William Irving, 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Leader: “Silvan is widely respected around the international community and we have been fortunate to have him lead our US team over the course of the last 18 years. Rafal, although a recent addition to our National Team Staff, is no stranger to the U.S. National Team members and the Olympic Games, serving in different U.S. roles since 2000. Rafal has done an excellent job in taking many athletes from the Junior ranks to top final performances internationally at the World Cups and Worlds [Championships]. These top international coaches give our athletes the best chance for medal success in 2012 and each are excited to get into the final preparations as we enter the Olympic Games.”
Q&A with Rafal Smolen
On which 2012 Olympic nominee has shown the most progress in the last year:
“I think both of our canoe boats have progressed significantly. Casey Eichfeld, after paddling just C2 before the Beijing Olympics, returned to C1 in 2009 and has been making steady progress in the class. Last year at the World Cups and World Championships, he was very close to the top results. Only penalties kept him out of the finals at World Cup No. 1 in Slovenia and Worlds [Championships] in Slovakia. The C2 [of Eric Hurd and Jeff Larimer] started paddling together two years ago and progressed very quickly. Jeff is an experienced C1 and C2 stern man and Eric is one of the top K1 paddlers in the U.S. with years of experience as well. That helped them adjusting to the C2 boat. They raced very well in every high-pressure race this year, winning every part of the US Olympic qualification. Making the final in Cardiff was a culmination of this process.”
On three-time Olympic kayaker Scott Parsons:
“Scotty is the most experienced on the team with many Top 10 performances in World Cups and Championships over the years. He definitely will be one of the medal contenders.”
On 20-year-old Olympic kayaker Caroline Queen:
“This is first Olympics for Caroline and it will be great experience for the future. The Women’s K-1 class is a bit unpredictable and Caroline is very capable to surprise in the Olympic race.”
On what the team must work on between now and the Opening Ceremony:
“There is only roughly over two weeks of total training time on the course in London. The most important will be to utilize that time on the course to the maximum and cover as many complex gate combinations as possible, especially on the critical, hardest parts of the course.”
On if his son will travel to London as a spectator:
“Michal will not go to London. Knowing how competitive he is, I think it would be extremely hard for him to just sit on the stands watching. I’m sure he will keep his fingers crossed and cheer at home for his teammates competing in London.”
USA Canoe/Kayak is a non-profit membership organization based in Oklahoma City, OK, promoting canoe and kayak racing in the United States. A member of the United States Olympic Committee, USA Canoe/Kayak is the national governing body for the Olympic sports of Flatwater Sprint and Whitewater Slalom and the official U.S. federation of the International Canoe Federation. Other paddling sports sanctioned by USACanoe/Kayak include Marathon, Freestyle, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddleboard, Canoe Polo, Canoe Sailing, Outrigger, and Dragon Boat. For more information about USA Canoe/Kayak, please visit us on the web at www.usack.org, on Twitter at @usacanoekayak and Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/USACanoeKayak.