U.S. Canoe Slalom Athletes Book Olympic Tickets

March 07, 2012, 11:04 a.m. (ET)

Benn Fraker (Peachtree City, Ga.) won the Gold medal in Men’s C-1 Sunday at the 2012 Slalom Pan American Championships in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, March 9-11. More importantly, Fraker’s performance clinched a 2012 Olympic slot for Team USA in the event. The U.S. team accomplished its goal of earning the two remaining slalom Olympic slots.

Click HERE for complete results. 

Fraker, a 2008 Olympian, finished with a final run time of 94.50, including two penalty seconds. Trailing by 1.46 seconds, Casey Eichfeld (Drums, Pa.) turned in the second best time of 95.96, including two penalty seconds. Cameron Smedley of Canada placed a distant third in 99.76. Zach Lokken (Durango, Colo.) entered the final round in third place, but missed three gates to finish tenth.

The three U.S. canoe athletes combined to finish second in the men’s C-1 team final with a time of 132.01, +8.69 seconds behind Brazil. 

Fraker, Eichfeld, Lokken and others will continue to compete for the right to fill the newly qualified Olympic slot. The athlete will be determined by performances at the 2012 Slalom National Team Trials in Charlotte, N.C., April 12-14, and the first stop on the 2012 World Cup circuit. 

The 2012 U.S. Olympic Canoe/Kayak Team will settle at six boat quota slots, comprising of seven athletes. Eric Hurd (Woodstock, Ga.) and Jeff Larimer (Marietta, Ga.) qualified a U.S. start position in slalom double canoe on Saturday. The U.S. qualified one slot in both men’s and women’s slalom kayak at the 2011 World Championships. The Olympic Team will also include two sprint boats - one men’s single kayak and one women’s single kayak.

Eichfeld, Fraker, and Lokken concluded the semifinal round ranked first, second, and third, respectively. Eichfeld's penalty-free semifinal time of 91.88 was 3.73 seconds faster than Fraker’s run. Fraker and Eichfeld led all paddlers after Friday’s qualifying heats, with Fraker turning in the top time of 88.77.

Fraker, 23, hopes to return to the Olympic stage, where he placed 6th in C-1 in Beijing. He finished fourth among a top class of C-1 athletes at the 2012 Australian Open in February. In the 2011 season, Fraker won the Men’s C-1 National Championship Title and placed 7th at World Cup No. 2.

Joe Jacobi, USA Canoe/Kayak CEO: “While I am sure Benn and Casey would have loved to have qualified the C1 spot at last year’s World Championships, this process has made our program stronger and represents a critical step on the road to London. Securing a full Slalom Team for London required a huge team effort in which we saw the development and talent of our Pan American competitors dramatically improve. We’re proud of our athletes, coaches and staff who executed a great game plan and accomplished this important goal.” 

William Irving, USA Canoe/Kayak National Teams Director: “Today all three C-1s came out hungry for the one Olympic slot and put everything into their run. After first runs, the team was 1-2-3, but we knew that Canada, Brazil and Argentina all had some really good paddlers in the finals. Benn Fraker was feeling the pressure coming out second from last, but worked to stay clean and really pushed himself at the bottom of the course to come out on top.”

“Eric and Jeff had a great run in the C-2 yesterday and showed that with more time in the boat they will get only better in the lead up to the Olympics. The Pan Am region is only going to get more competitive between now and 2016, so our young paddlers have their work cut out for them in the next quad.”

“This was a great weekend for our Canoe's and now we can turn our focus to filling our Olympic slots with the most competitive athletes in the country who will represent USA Canoe/Kayak at the Olympic Games. Olympic Trials at USNWC [National Whitewater Center] will be a great competition as we really begin the process of filling our Olympic Team.”

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Saturday Update:

Eric Hurd (Woodstock, Ga.) and Jeff Larimer (Marietta, Ga.) won the Gold medal and earned a 2012 Olympic boat quota slot for Team USA in the Men’s C-2 final Saturday at the 2012 Slalom Pan American Championships in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, March 9-11.

Click HERE for a Q&A with Hurd and Larimer.

The duo finished in 107.13, +2.16 seconds ahead of the second place finishers from Brazil. Casey Eichfeld (Drums, Pa.) and Devin McEwan (Salisbury, Conn.) turned in the third best time among eligible boats - 110.90, including two penalty seconds.

The win expands the 2012 U.S. Olympic Canoe/Kayak Team by two athletes and one boat for a total of six athletes and five boats quota slots.

Hurd and Larimer will still have to compete in order to be named the U.S. athletes to fill the Men’s C-2 boat at London 2012. The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team will be determined by performances at the 2012 Slalom National Team Trials in Charlotte, N.C., April 12-14, and the first stop on the 2012 World Cup circuit.

Hurd, 25, and Larimer, 30, entered Saturday ranked second among eligible boats after two qualifying heats, trailing the Canadian duo of James and Adam Cutts. Hurd and Larimer moved ahead of the Canadians to finish first with a semifinal time of 105.76, including two penalty seconds.

The Cutts brothers missed the last gate in the final round, finishing sixth. Hurd and Larimer nearly missed the same gate, losing speed and earning two penalty seconds before crossing the finish line. The Brazilian tandem of Cassio Petry and Charles Correa rose from 6th in the semifinal to earn the Silver medal.

The U.S. will attempt to earn one final Olympic slot Sunday in Men’s C-1. Benn Fraker (Peachtree City, Ga.) currently leads all competitors heading into the semifinal round. Casey Eichfeld and Zach Lokken (Durango, Colo.) will also compete for a spot in the finals. The semifinal round begins 7:41 a.m. Eastern.

The U.S. must win the Gold medal to earn an Olympic slot for Team USA.

Eric Hurd, C-2: “The last run was pretty much what we were asking for until the last gate, where we ended up a bit short in the last offset, causing a few seconds in time plus a touch. From there, we just pushed hard to the finish and hoped for the best. But the fast overall run still gave us the lead.”

Jeff Larimer, C-2: “An Olympic berth is everything. It is the reason we are still doing it after all these years of not making it. Between now and Trials, we plan on hitting the gym and doing as many curls as we can.”

Casey Eichfeld, C-1 and C-2 via Facebook: “The day was long, but the United States will be going to the Olympics in C-2! Devin and I had [some] decent racing today, but thanks to ‘Butter’ [Hurd] and Jeff, the United States have the position. Now to rest... C-1 still to come tomorrow."

Joe Jacobi, USA Canoe/Kayak CEO and 1992 Olympic C-2 Gold medalist: “The quality of C-2 racing around the world continues to improve and qualifying a start position at the Olympic Games is more challenging to accomplish each year. Jeff and Eric brought the exact spirit our Slalom program needed today – they took some bold risks on the water, were extremely confident and most importantly they executed a great plan for fixing small mistakes. They were the best boat on the continent today and I’m thrilled that a C-2 will represent the United States at the Olympic Games in London!”

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Friday Update:

Benn Fraker (Peachtree City, Ga.) finished Friday’s qualifying heats with a commanding first place lead in Men’s C-1 at the 2012 Slalom Pan American Championships in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, March 9-11.

His penalty-free second run time of 88.77 was 2.75 seconds faster than the second place time, which was turned in by Casey Eichfeld (Drums, Pa.). Eichfeld finished in 91.52, including four penalty seconds.

Zach Lokken (Durango, Colo.) ranks fifth with a penalty-free first run time of 94.16. Devin McEwan (Salisbury, Conn.) ranks 13th with a second run time of 106.91, including eight seconds worth of penalties. All four athletes will compete in Sunday’s semifinal run, after which the top 10 finishers will compete in the final later that day.

In Men’s C-2, Eric Hurd (Woodstock, Ga.) and Jeff Larimer (Marietta, Ga.) currently rank second among eligible boats after two qualifying heats. A boat from the Czech Republic turned in the top time, but they do not qualify for Pan American medals or Olympic slots. Hurd and Larimer finished their second run in 98.72, including two penalty seconds. The duo trails the first place finishing boat from Canada by 0.15 seconds. 

Eichfeld and McEwan rank fourth, finishing in 105.29 with four penalty seconds. Both U.S. boats will race in Saturday’s semifinal, after which the top 10 fastest boats will compete in the final later that day. The C-2 semifinal begins 11 a.m. Eastern Time.

The U.S. must finish first in the Men’s C-1 or C-2 final to earn an Olympic slot for Team USA.

William Irving, USA Canoe/Kayak National Teams Director: “Today was a good day to just get out and race after training for the past two weeks. Although no one was eliminated from the heats, we were able to position ourselves well for tomorrow. Tomorrow’s course is very similar to the heats course and the athletes feel they can be fast.

“The Brazilians, Canadians and Argentineans will all make a push for the open Olympic slots and will make our team push to have two clean runs tomorrow. Our coaches,Silvan Poberaj and Rafal Smolen have done a great job preparing our athletes for this weekend’s competition and our athletes do a great job executing the race plan.”

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This weekend marks the last chance for U.S. athletes to qualify boat quota slots for the London 2012 Olympic Games in canoe/kayak. Six U.S. canoe athletes will hope to qualify two boats at the 2012 Slalom Pan American Championships in Foz do Iguassu, Brazil, March 9-11. The athletes must finish first in men’s single canoe (C-1) and men’s double canoe (C-2) in order to earn the Olympic slot. 

Representing Team USA are:

C-1 Benn Fraker (Peachtree City, Ga.) 2008 Olympian

C-1 Casey Eichfeld (Drums, Pa.) 2008 Olympian

C-1 Zach Lokken (Durango, Colo.)

C-1 Devin McEwan (Salisbury, Conn.)*

C-2 Eric Hurd (Woodstock, Ga.) and Jeff Larimer (Marietta, Ga.)

C-2 Devin McEwan and Casey Eichfeld

Coaches: Silvan Poberaj and Rafal Smolen

*McEwan’s C-1 scores will not count.

The U.S. men’s canoe athletes were unable to earn 2012 slots at the other Olympic qualifier - the 2011 Slalom World Championships. As of yet, no athletes from the region have qualified Olympic slots in men’s C-1 or C-2, which makes for a full and competitive field.

Foz do Iguassu also hosted the 2007 World Championships and Olympic Qualifier. The Brazilian slalom course is shallow, which has led to broken boats for other countries training this past month 

Leading the U.S. contingent will be two 2008 Olympians - Benn Fraker and Casey Eichfeld.

Eichfeld, 22, competed at the Beijing Games in Men’s C-2 with Rick Powell (Parkesburg, Penn.). He placed 17th in C-1 at the 2012 Australian Open. In 2011, Eichfeld finished as high as 13th on the World Cup circuit and placed 19th at the 2011 Slalom World Championships.

Lokken, 17, is right about where Fraker and Eichfeld were four years ago. Lokken turned in a dominant 2011 season in the junior ranks, earning two Gold medals and a Silver on the 2011 Vadja Teen Cup circuit. He participated in the 2010 Senior World Championships, finishing 42nd.

Devin McEwan will team up with Casey Eichfeld in men’s C-2. The duo combined to place 15th at the 2012 Australian Open. McEwan’s father, Jamie, won a bronze medal at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. Eric Hurd and Jeff Larimer form the other U.S. C-2 boat. Together, they finished 18th at the 2011 World Cup No. 3 and 32nd at the 2011 World Championships.

QUOTES:

Casey Eichfeld, Single and Double Canoe: “I have to say that four years feels like they have flown by. I can't believe that it is an Olympic year already. Nevertheless, I am pumped and ready for this next round, and will be seeking an Olympic position in C-1 and C-2. Pan Ams have a lot of pressure on them, but I am going to race my best and leave it all on the course.”

William Irving, USA Canoe/Kayak National Teams Director: “The Canadians are the favorites in the Kayaks and we are in the C-1’s, but the C-2 is going to be a close battle to look out for. Our C-2’s have not been together nearly as long as the other countries, but in 2011, our C-2’s had some of the best international results in the Pan Am region. The Canadians have been here in training for over a month in total and are very familiar with the course.”

Joe Jacobi, USA Canoe/Kayak CEO: "Our Slalom Canoe athletes have had the Pan Am Championships circled on the calendar since last fall. While the competition will be tough, we're confident in our abilities to qualify the remaining positions needed to field a full Slalom Team for 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 atwww.usack.org, on Twitter at @usacanoekayak and Like us on Facebook atfacebook.com/USACanoeKayak.

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