Casey Eichfeld scored a hat trick of sorts Saturday, earning a trip to his third Olympic Games by winning the men’s single canoe competition at the first leg of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Canoe/Kayak Slalom, held at the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
With a fourth-place finish at the 2015 world championships to his credit, Eichfeld needed only a top-two finish in Charlotte to earn his third Olympic designation.
After placing 11th in doubles canoe with Rick Powell at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Eichfeld went solo in London and finished 14th. At last year’s worlds, he was fast enough to win a medal, but a two-second gate touch penalty added to his time was the difference between bronze and fourth.
That near-miss, however, was a signal to the world that he is ready to reestablish the U.S. in C1, a discipline controlled by Americans in the 1980s and early 90s. Eichfeld points to paddling legend Jon Lugbill as his inspiration. It was Lugbill who, along with David Hearn, utterly dominated the C1 podium at worlds. In total, he won 12 world gold medals and one silver, when Hearn stepped up to claim his only individual gold at worlds in 1985.
With gold medals in both the C1 and C2 (along with Devin McEwan) from the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, 26-year-old Eichfeld has positioned himself as one of the paddlers to watch going into Rio. He has five top-10 international finishes to his credit in the past two years.
With a win in C2 in Charlotte, Eichfeld and McEwan are in a strong position to claim the Olympic berth at the second leg of the Olympic Trials, May 6-7 in Oklahoma City, should the U.S. earn a quota in the event (which is currently being determined by the International Canoe Federation). That would give Eichfeld an opportunity to double in Rio. By qualifying, McEwan would be following in his father’s Olympic footsteps. Jamie McEwan was the first American to win an Olympic canoe/kayak slalom medal with his bronze at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. Twenty years later, as the only returning paddler from the sport’s first and only prior Olympic appearance, the elder McEwan teamed with Lecky Haller in C2 and finished fourth in Barcelona, Spain.