(L - R) Ryan Dolan, Tim Hornsby and Rami Zur during an award ceremony for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
They have raced together as partners and against each other as competitors for the past four years, hoping for a chance to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games in the men’s sprint kayak competition. Tim Hornsby and Ryan Dolan have trained together, eaten together; hung out.
Then this past year, the process of London became even more intense for them because U.S. men’s sprint kayaking qualified only for the K-1 200-meter event in the Olympic Games, which meant there was only one spot on the team. One man in the kayak. This was the constant — one would go, one would stay.
So when it was final on May 27, and their complicated journey of dueling it out concluded, Hornsby and Dolan had very different outcomes, but much the same feeling — awkward.
Hornsby would go.
“Honestly, I thought it would be much more tense and awkward then it was,” said Hornsby, who finished 0.248 seconds ahead of Dolan at a World Cup event in Duisburg, Germany. “It was an extremely long and hard competition, and we both wanted to win. It’s too bad we both couldn’t go.”
Hornsby, 25, returned to Jonesboro, Ark., Monday night to see his girlfriend, Becky Holliday, who is vying for a spot in the pole vault on the U.S. Olympic Team. He had a maze of phone calls, hundreds of emails and Facebook congratulations and something he’s not used to at all — media attention.
“Very strange — it’s unusual for sprint kayaking to get so much news coverage,” he said.
Dolan, 22, returned home to his family and friends in Kailua, Hawaii, and sought comfort in his roots by taking an ocean paddle with a friend, he said. “It’s a little weird and awkward because we’re friends and one is celebrating and the other’s dream just ended,” Dolan said. “But when Tim came off the water, I think I was the first to shake his hand and congratulate him and tell him it’s on him now to represent the U.S. and do well, and I support him.”
Hornsby’s goal of being an Olympian began at the Atlanta Games in 1996, when he saw the transformation of his hometown into a sports utopia. He thought his path would be soccer. His family went to dozens of events — in soccer, cycling, men’s gymnastics — but ironically they saw no water sports. “I knew they were being held at Lake Lanier, and I thought kayaks were cool, but I didn’t know sprint existed,” Hornsby said.
A year later, when he was 11, he went to a trade show and stopped to see a kayak at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Club booth.
“It was all super magical — they had held the Olympics there (at Lake Lanier) and they had the 1996 Canadian Olympic coach at the club, Tony Hall, and he became so inspiring to me and talked about how I could be an Olympian,” Hornsby said. “I begged my parents to send me to spring camp at the club. It was an hour drive each way from home, and I started by just going to camps at school breaks, then during the week everybody took turns driving me — my aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents. By the time I was a senior, I drove myself there every day after school.”
At 17, Hornsby placed 10th at the Junior World Championship K-2 1000 meters. Then came more World Championships competitions, training, victories, and the University of California, San Diego, where he is majoring in Aerospace Engineering. “I thought I would take a year off the water and play soccer in college,” he said, “but I missed it so much.”
Hornsby won two events at the 2008 Olympic team trials — the K-2 500 meters and K-4 1000 meters — but still didn’t make the Olympic team. Since 2010, he and Dolan have battled to secure a spot for the sprint team as well as for themselves in London. They were boat mates in the K-2 200 meters but failed to qualify. That left the men’s K-1 200 meters, which will be an Olympic event for the first time.
Dolan secured the Olympic spot for the United States in the K-1 200 meters by earning a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games. That medal put the boat in the water, but to paddle it, either Hornsby or Dolan needed to win two-of-three major events. Hornsby won the K-1 200 meters at the Olympic Team Trials in April to tie the score with Dolan and set up a finale in the World Cup series.
“I told Ryan how I appreciated that he qualified the team for the Olympics,” Hornsby said. “We have both been paddling at such a high level, there is definitely a future of us in this sport. It’s been amazing and such a long process. It hasn’t all soaked in.
“Is it done? Is it really done?”Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Maryann Hudson is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.