Nevin Harrison, a 17-year-old from Seattle, became the first American to earn a world championships medal in a sprint canoe event, and it happened to be gold, surprising herself in the 200m in Szeged, Hungary, on Saturday.
Harrison covered the course in 49.30 seconds to win by .44. She crossed the finish line, stopped, looked to the side, held up one finger to question her result, then covered her mouth once she realized it.
“I have no words right now,” she said upon getting out of the water. “It’s unreal, so much more than I ever thought. … Wow, what a moment.”
Harrison became a serious canoeist three years ago, after hip dysplasia forced her to stop sprinting on the track. She said merely making Saturday’s final was the “biggest dream ever.”
Harrison joined Greg Barton as the only Americans to win an individual world title in sprint canoe or kayak. No U.S. woman has earned Olympic gold in any kayak event. The last silver came via Rebecca Giddens in the slalom in 2004.
Women’s canoe debuts at the Tokyo Games. Women’s events were added and men’s events removed to make it equal with eight events per gender in canoe and kayak.
If Harrison can repeat the feat in Tokyo next year, she will become the youngest woman to earn Olympic canoe or kayak gold, breaking the record of legendary German Birgit Fischer-Schmidt, whom some consider the greatest female Olympian in history across all sports with 12 medals and eight golds.
Saturday’s final lacked Canadian six-time 200m world champion Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, who is provisionally suspended after recently testing positive for a banned substance.
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