Casey Eichfeld could have two chances to medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The team of Devin McEwan and Eichfeld won the second leg of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Canoe/Kayak Slalom in Oklahoma City Sunday afternoon, completing a sweep of both Trials events and securing the designation as the U.S. entry in men’s double canoe (C2) at the Rio Games.
Ashley Nee won the remaining Olympic event, women’s single kayak (K1), after finishing second at the Oklahoma City Trials and first one month earlier in North Carolina. Nee was tied with Dana Mann, who was first on Sunday and second last month, but will receive the spot as she helped earn the potential quota spot with her performance at last year’s Pan American Games.
They now must await a decision from the International Canoe Federation regarding allocation of the remaining Olympic quota spots to see if the U.S. will be sending a boat in the C2 and/or the women’s K1. That decision will not be made until after the European championships, to be held May 12-15 in Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia.
Eichfeld already has qualified for Rio in the men’s single canoe (C1) and will attempt a rare double in Olympic whitewater slalom if the U.S. receives a quota spot in the C2 class. He and then-partner Rick Powell placed 11th at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, then Eichfeld earned a solo spot on the London 2012 team, where he placed 14th.
Eichfeld and McEwan won gold in C2 at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games and have won the U.S. national team trials each of the last three years. They have placed as high as 12th on the world cup circuit during this Olympic cycle.
If they receive the quota spot, it will be McEwan’s first time competing at an Olympic Games, but he is no stranger to Olympic canoeing. His father, the late Jamie McEwan, made history as the first American to win an Olympic medal in slalom when, at the age of 19, he took bronze in C1 at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. That was the sport’s debut on the Olympic program, but it would not return until the Barcelona 1992 Games. The elder McEwan then made history once again by becoming the first two-time canoeing slalom Olympian. He and his partner, Lecky Haller, finished fourth in C2.
For Nee, the bronze medalist at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, the win brings her to the brink of a breakthrough after disappointment the last two Olympic cycles. She was the athlete who qualified the United States in women’s kayak for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, but suffered a dislocated shoulder during the test event for the course in China. That sidelined her for five months, and she was unable to recover her form in time for the 2008 trials. She placed fourth there and saw the spot she’d won going to Heather Corrie.
She was even closer in 2012, racing well enough to score the points necessary for selection but losing a tiebreaker that tipped the choice in favor of Caroline Queen.
Nee has raced at the last three world championships, with a top finish of 38th in 2014. She also has been active on the world cup circuit this quadrennium, placing as high as 23rd.
Born in Darnestown, Maryland, she resides in Bethesda, a hotbed of whitewater canoeing talent for more than 40 years. It is the same area that produced two-time Olympic women’s kayak medalist Dana Chladek as well as Jon Lugbill and David Hearn, dominant single canoeists of the 1980s and ‘90s.
One other U.S. canoe/kayak athlete has already qualified for 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. Michal Smolen, who won bronze at the 2015 worlds, will race in his first Olympic Games in men’s single kayak.