Nevin Harrison
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Nevin Harrison, 17, becomes first American to win world sprint canoe title

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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.

Race video is here.

“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.

MORE: Tonga flag bearer finishes last in sprint kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, a personal best and the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Malakai Ahokava, a 36-year-old sweet potato farmer listed as the Tonga canoe federation president, with heats Thursday and Friday. Taufatofua said Ahokava sold some of his crop to pay for travel expenses.

“He’s off at the farm,” Taufatofua said, adding that the two got in a boat together for the first time last week.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

NBC Olympic Researcher Reina Kern contributed to this report from Hungary.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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Fan voting starts for U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame

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The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee announced finalists Monday for the organization’s Hall of Fame.

Fans can vote as part of a process that selects five Olympians, three Paralympians and one team from a final list of 15 Olympians, nine Paralympians and three teams. Other voters include U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, national governing bodies and multisport organizations, the USOPC board, select members of the media, and USOPC corporate partners.

The nominees are:

Olympic:

  • Gary Anderson, shooting: Gold medalist in 1964 and 1968
  • Greg Barton, canoe/kayak: First American to win kayaking gold (1988)
  • Laura Berg, softball: Center fielder, gold medalist in 1996, 2000 and 2004
  • Anne Donovan, basketball: Center, gold medalist in 1984 and 1998
  • Lisa Leslie, basketball: Second player to win four Olympic golds (1996-2008)
  • Nastia Liukin, gymnastics: 2008 all-around gold medalist, five total medals
  • John Mayasich, ice hockey: Gold medalist in 1960, leading scorer on silver-medal team in 1956
  • Misty May-Treanor, beach volleyball: Gold medalist (with Kerri Walsh Jennings) in 2004, 2008 and 2012
  • Jonny Moseley, freestyle skiing: Gold medalist in moguls in 1998
  • Apolo Anton Ohno, short-track speed skating: Eight medals in 2002, 2006 and 2010
  • Mark Reynolds, sailing: Gold medalist in 1992 and 2000
  • Angela Ruggiero, ice hockey: Gold medalist in 1998, other medals in 2002, 2006 and 2010, all-time leader in games played
  • John Smith, wrestling: Gold medalist in 1988 and 1992
  • Dara Torres, swimming: 12 medals from 1984 (age 17) to 2008 (age 41)
  • Brenda Villa, water polo: Gold medalist in 2012, other medals in 2000, 2004 and 2008

Paralympic:

  • Cheri Blauwet, track and field: Seven medals in three Paralympics, several major marathon wins
  • Candace Cable, track and field, Nordic skiing, alpine skiing: First American woman to win medals in summer and winter
  • Muffy Davis, cycling, alpine skiing: Four medals in skiing before switching to cycling and winning three golds
  • Bart Dodson, track and field: Eight gold medals in 1992 alone, 20 medals total over five Paralympics
  • Greg Mannino, alpine skiing: Six gold medals and 12 total over five Paralympics
  • Erin Popovich, swimming: 14 gold medals and 19 total over three Paralympics
  • Marla Runyan, Para track and field, Para-cycling, Olympic track and field: Six Paralympic medals, first legally blind American to compete in Olympics
  • Chris Waddell, alpine skiing, track and field: 12 Paralympic medals in skiing, one in track and field
  • Trischa Zorn, swimming: 52 medals, including 38 gold, over seven Paralympics

Team:

  • 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s basketball: Led by Leslie (19.5 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game), Katrina McClain (8.2 rebounds per game) and Teresa Edwards (7.3 assists per game)
  • 1998 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey: Upset Canada 3-1 in final, team included Ruggiero, Cammi Granato and Tricia Dunn
  • 2010 U.S. Olympic four-man bobsled: Won gold medal with driver Steven Holcomb and push athletes Steve Mesler, Curtis Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen

Fan voting continues at TeamUSA.org until Sept. 3.

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