[Note: Thanks to reader Charles Howell, enthusiastic parent Karel Zikan, and team manager Elizabeth “Eli” Holmes for bringing this to our attention, and providing much of the information for this story.]
Three local teenagers have recently returned from Račice, Czech Republic, after representing the United States in the Olympic Hopes Canoe and Kayaking Regatta last weekend. This annual sprint canoe event for youths in the 15- to 17-year-old range is hosted by a different country each year and pits teams from around the world. Teams for each country are chosen from a nationwide field by their governing bodies based upon a number of criteria, notably performance in prior races. Given this, it’s remarkable that of this year’s US team of approximately 30 athletes, three hail from Wallingford.
Sprint canoeing is a sport that many people are not familiar with. (I know that I wasn’t.) If you’re conjuring up thoughts of the canoes that they rent at the Waterfront Activities Center near Husky Stadium, banish those thoughts from your mind. Picture instead a sleek, low-to-the-water craft. And there’s no need for seats, as the paddlers kneel in the boats to enable them to put maximum force to the paddle. Similarly, the kayaks are not the type of thing you would be renting at Agua Verde. Nor would you likely be applying yourself to the paddle the way these racers do. More information is available here.
Our three athletes are all members of the Seattle Canoe and Kayak Club where they are coached by Doug Ritchie. They have some impressive canoeing and kayaking achievements for their age groups. Nevin Harrison, a student at Roosevelt High, is the U16 (16 and under) US National Champion in singles canoeing (C1, in the terminology of sprint canoeing) at the 200-, 500-, and 1000-meter distances. She is also the U18 National Champion in 500 meter and 200 meter. Aaron Small, also a student at Roosevelt, placed 3rd at the US Nationals (held in Claremont, FL, last month) in K1 (one-person kayaking–but you guessed that, right?) at the 500- and 200-meter distance. Jake Zikan attends University Prep and placed 5th and 7th in K1 at Nationals at 1000 and 500 meters, respectively. With Aaron with him in the boat, he placed 2nd in K2 at Nationals at 1000 meter and 4th at 200 meter.
This year’s Olympic Hopes Regatta was the second largest in history, comprising about 900 athletes from 33 nations and 6 continents. Earning a place on the US team for this event is a great distinction in its own right, but the Wallingford contingent racked up some impressive results on top of that.
In K2, racing together in the same boat, Small and Zikan reached the semifinals in all three of their races (1000, 500, and 200 meters). In all distances, they were the fastest of the three US boats, posting personal records in each race. In doing so, they set an American record for the U16 K2 1000-meter distance.
Reports Eli, our observer in Račice:
Big wow was Nevin. She took GOLD in both 500m and 200m [C1] by posting huge PRs [personal records]. 6.4% faster in 500m and 5% faster in 200m. It was something to see. The races were very tight, and at the finish she was able to dig deep for that extra bit to stay in front. A picture of power and determination.
While bagging the gold at the 500 meter, Harrison also broke the American record for any age, and while she was at it, she took the silver medal in C1 at the 1000-meter distance. Her three medals accounted for all of the US medals, putting the US solidly in the top third of the competition in the overall medal count. (By my estimate, Hungary and Germany, the two top finishers, accounted for about 58 percent of all the medals awarded.)
Needless to say, the competition had many dramatic moments. Eli reports:
During the two tight races over the 200m and 500m distance, Nevin faced a determined challenge from a German competitor. Nevin launched her boat across the finish line in a tricky maneuver (similar to a sprinter’s lean in a foot race) that may gain about a 1/2 foot in reach, but at the same time makes the boat unstable. Nevin ended up swimming both times, but golden.
This provided a treasured memory for Aaron and Jake, but for Nevin … not so much.
From the SCKC website:
The SCKC sprint team is a co-ed, multi-age (grades 6-college) group, that practices on Green Lake after school and on weekends. The Seattle Canoe & Kayak Club is affiliated with the US Canoe and Kayak Team (USACK) and the City of Seattle Department of Parks & Recreation. Our program offers a lot of fun, hard work and pay-offs. Year-round membership on the team is a big commitment, but in return it offers physical and mental training, skills and confidence building, socialization, coaching, competition and the opportunity for both team and personal success. As a community, we are learning how important it is to make these opportunities available to our young people. For additional information and schedule, visit the Youth Paddling page, contact the club office at 206-684-4074, or come by the Small Crafts Center office at the Green Lake boathouse.