LONDON - When 8-year old Eric Hurd found an old home movie of his father’s paddling exploits in his family’s basement, it didn’t take long for the awestruck youngster to ask his father to take him to the river. As fate would have it, finding that tape led him to a new sport, a 15-year relationship with the son of his father’s old training partner and an Olympic berth.
When Hurd and Jeff Larimer start their first run Monday at an Olympic medal in the doubles slalom canoe at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, they’ll be fulfilling a dream their fathers pursued for years earlier and passed on to their sons.
“When we were first learning to paddle, both of our dads were helping us out every day and spending time on the river teaching us,” Hurd said. “My dad competed pretty heavily in slalom for a few years before Jeff’s dad did, and I guess he always hoped I’d continue out his legacy.”
The fathers – Mike Larimer and Mike Hurd – had trained competitively together at the same canoe/kayak club in the Atlanta area for many years. Mike Larimer was a U.S. national team member who narrowly missed a qualification for the 1992 Olympic Games and was a coach for the 1996 Games. Mike Hurd was also at the top of his sport and narrowly missed his chances at the national level.
In only a matter of months after seeing the video, Eric Hurd had quit baseball to take up canoe full-time. In 1997, he earned an invitation to train with Mike Larimer’s youth team. That same year, Jeff Larimer started training with his father’s club as well after quitting soccer. The two became fast friends, training every day after school and traveling to competitions every summer in Europe.
“Eric was the runt of the group, and he’s kind of a crazy kid even to this day,” said Jeff, who is five years older and will turn 31 on Wednesday. “We picked on him a good bit. He was the smallest and the youngest and the cockiest, which is a pretty bad combination.”
When Eric Hurd was at a youth training camp outside of Washington, D.C. in 1999, he responded to a dare by eating a stick of butter and earning an enduring nickname: “Butter.” Even now, the two laugh when they reflect on the good times they’ve experienced together.
Today, they can add the Olympic Games to that list after pairing up in the doubles canoe event only a year and half ago.
“We’ve already had a pretty good relationship with each other so getting along wouldn’t be hard, so we figured it would be a good idea,” Jeff Larimer said.
The combination has been wildly successful, as they took home gold in the 2011 Pan American Championships and first place in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. The accomplishments come after suffering near-misses in individual qualifications. Now in London, both families can enjoy the Games experience for the first time together.
“It was really tough the first time when I was the runner-up at qualifiers,” Jeff Larimer said. “This time it’s kind of surreal. I think it has started to hit me since then. I’m sure it will start to hit me tomorrow.”
Nodding, Eric Hurd agreed: “Once we come out of the starting gate.”