Year in Review: Whitewater Slalom
(Lefevre winning Bronze in K-1 at World Cup #1 in Cardiff, UK. Credit: Getty Images)
The year after an Olympics is always a season of transition. The U.S. Slalom Team headed into the 2013 season needing to replace four out of five members from its 2012 Olympic Team.
Two-time Olympian Casey Eichfeld (Drums, Pa.) is the lone holdover from London. The 23-year-old has taken on the role of team leader and the expectations that come along with it. He responded by beginning the season with a first place finish in C-1 at the National Team Trials in McHenry, Md. and ending it with a National Championship in Bryson City, N.C.
All of Team USA looks forward to returning to Western Maryland next year for the 2014 World Championships at the Adventure Sports Center International.
Internationally, Eichfeld’s top results include an 11th place finish in C-1 at World Cup No. 2 in Germany and a 13th place finish in C-2 with Devin McEwan (Salisbury, Conn.) at World Cup No. 1 in Wales.
“The 2013 season has ended and with that comes our winter training,” Eichfeld said. “There were some ups and downs throughout the season, but I feel as though I'm on the right track. I have the areas that need work in mind and I will be tackling them through the winter months. World Championships coming to [McHenry, Md.] next year is very exciting, and I am looking forward to Team USA bringing our best!”
Team USA welcomed two newcomers with lots of experience in French-American paddler Fabien Lefevre (Bethesda, Md.) and Slovakian-American kayaker Dana Mann (Washington, D.C.). Both athletes started the season off with a bang, winning the National Team Trials in Men’s and Women’s K-1, respectively.
Lefevre, a two-time Olympic medalist for France, qualified for the U.S. in both kayak and single canoe, a class in which he’s never competed before. The 31-year-old won a Bronze medal in K-1 at World Cup No. 1 and nearly medaled at the World Championships in Czech Republic, placing 4th. He also turned in a 4th place finish in C-1 at World Cup No. 4 in Slovenia.
“This year’s team was a mixture of youth and experience,” said U.S. Coach Rafal Smolen. “From Fabien and Dana we expected performance at the top international level, which they delivered especially at the World Championships in Prague – both of them missing the podium by very small margin. On the other hand, our young athletes showed a lot of potential. Although they failed to perform at the decisive phases of the biggest competitions this season, I’m sure these experiences will pay off in upcoming years.
“There are still two racing seasons prior to the Olympic year. Everyone’s eyes are set on Rio but we can’t forget about all the small steps leading there. Next year, we have Slalom World Championships coming back to the U.S. soil after 24 years and with the amount of time we will spend training at the Deep Creek course, it should give our athletes significant home advantage. Hopefully, the U.S. team can transfer this advantage into medal performances in September next year.”
Lefevre teamed up with Michal Smolen (Gastonia, N.C.) and Rick Powell (Parkesburg, Penn.) to win the Silver medal in the K-1 Team event at the World Cup Final in Slovakia. Smolen and Powell weren’t able to reach a K-1 Final in a senior-level event this year, finishing as high as 14th and 18th, respectively, on the World Cup circuit.
Dana Mann won multiple World Cup and World Championship medals for Slovakia as Dana Benusova before marrying former U.S. National Team member Scott Mann. She finished the 2013 season strong with a 5th place finish at the World Championships and then winning the National Championship.
“I am happy with the 2013 season and the result at the World Championships and my first U.S. title from the Nationals in North Carolina,” Mann said. “Now I am slowly starting to train again for the 2014 season after two weeks of not paddling at all and doing other activities. A few weeks ago we had a training camp in [McHenry, Md.]. It was a good preparation, with very nice and warm weather. Next year we will train there as much as possible in order to be prepared for the World Championships in September at our US ‘home’ course. In our sport we can never promise to bring a medal - I can only promise that I will do my best to perform at the top level and enjoy the race.”
Also competing in women’s K-1, Ashley Nee (Darnestown, Md.) started the year by attempting a 100-mile paddle down the Potomac River to raise funds for the 2013 season. She paddled hard all season, highlighted by a career-best 12th place finish at the World Cup Final.
Joining Lefevre and Eichfeld in men’s C-1 was Zach Lokken (Durango, Colo.). Together, the trio finished 5th in the C-1 Team event at the World Cup Final. Lokken, 19, turned in an 18th place finish at World Cup No. 1 and finished a team-best 9th at the 2013 Under-23/Junior World Championships in Slovakia.
In women’s C-1, Micki Reeves (Denver, Colo.) and Colleen Hickey (Okawville, Ill.) finished as high as 13th and 15th, respectively, on the World Cup circuit. Reeves also finished 3rd overall in the 2013 Pyrenees Cup Race Series.
- The Toronto 2015 Pan American Games announced the addition of slalom (including women’s canoe) into its program
- Lokken (Gold, C-1) and Aaron Mann (Silver, K-1) medal at the 2013 Pan American Championships in Mexico
- Elliot Bertrand (Silver, C-1), Michael Rudnitsky (Bronze, K-1) and Gabe Machado and Will Coggan (Silver, C-2) medal at Junior World Cup in Slovakia
Looking Ahead to 2014:
- The U.S. will host the ICF Slalom World Championships in Western Maryland.
- The Oklahoma City Boathouse District will break ground on a world-class whitewater facility adjacent to their existing, world-class flatwater venue on the Oklahoma River.
- Smolen and Lokken have already qualified for the 2014 U-23 World Championships, where they will aim to improve upon their Top 10 finishes in past years.
Stay tuned for season recaps for Sprint, ParaCanoe, and the non-Olympic events.
“The arrival of Fabien and Danka infused new excitement and experience into our National Team,” said USA Canoe/Kayak CEO Joe Jacobi. “But 2013 has also been a critical year to take inventory of our Slalom program and evaluate the investment and opportunities coming to the sport that will support this discipline over the next few years including hosting the 2014 Canoe Slalom World Championships in Maryland and the development of the whitewater center in Oklahoma City. 1996 Olympic Champion and former National Performance Coach for the British Slalom program, Oliver Fix, joined USA Canoe/Kayak as a consultant to supervise this process, develop our high performance plan and strategy and start the process of implementing next steps for the program.”
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, USA Canoe/Kayak is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Canoe Federation. It governs the Olympic disciplines of Flatwater Sprint, Whitewater Slalom, the Paralympic discipline of Paracanoe and sanctions Freestyle, Marathon, Outrigger, Wildwater, Stand Up Paddle Board, Kayak Polo, Dragon Boat and Canoe Sailing in the United States. For more information about USA Canoe/Kayak, please visit us on the web at www.usack.org, on Twitter at @usacanoekayak and Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/USACanoeKayak.