U.S. Olympic hopeful Michal Smolen set a torrid pace Friday in men’s kayak runs, finishing first with a five second lead over his nearest competitor and positioning himself to wrap up an Olympic slot Saturday in team trials at the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
“My day in the kayak was a huge success,” said Smolen, 22, of Gastonia, one of the hottest slalom racers in the nation. The fastest of his two runs was 95.08 seconds. He said he focused on avoiding penalties in his first run then to go for it in the second.
To lock up the men’s kayaking slot, Smolen must finish third or higher overall. He carries points from his third place finish in the 2015 World Championships in London; no other kayaker has points.
But two time Olympian Casey Eichfeld, who earned points in London in the single canoe category, fell short Friday of taking first place in C1. Eichfeld finished second to Zachary Lokken of Durango, Colo., by 2.10 seconds. A gate touch penalty added two seconds to Eichfeld’s time.
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Eichfeld, who lives in Mount Holly, must finish at least second overall to nail down the C1 slot in Charlotte; otherwise points earned in London, Charlotte and Oklahoma City, in May, will determine who wins men’s single canoe, men’s tandem canoe and women’s kayak.
Eichfeld, 26, and teammate Devin McEwan of Salisbury, Conn., took first in C2 with 114.72 seconds.
In women’s kayak, Ashley Nee of Bethesda, Md., won first with 114.36 seconds. She was 0.83 seconds ahead of Dana Mann of Washington, D.C., and 3.67 seconds faster than Anna Maria Ifarraguerri of Belmont.
An up and coming paddler, Tyler Smith, 16, of Huntersville, put in a strong performance in K1 and C1 races. He finished third in men’s kayak, 7.61 seconds behind Smolen and fourth in C1, 8.57 seconds off. “This is one of my best races so far, especially in the U.S.,” Smith said.
Smith is one of the few homegrown slalom racers unlike others who relocated to the Charlotte area to train at the whitewater center.
In 2010, at age 11, he took a summer camp kayaking course at the center. Since, he has competed in nearly 50 events, including the 2015 World Championships in C2 with Tad Dennis of Mount Holly. He made the U.S. National Junior Team in 2014 and 2015 in C1 and K1.
Smith is a senior at Lincoln Charter School in Denver, N.C., and devotes his time to school, Boy Scouts (he’s an Eagle Scout) and, of course, slalom racing. “I’m looking at the 2020 Games (in Tokyo) for sure,” Smith said.
Complete results will be posted on usack.org. Saturday’s runs are 1:30 3:30 p.m. and 4:10-6:10 p.m.