For two years, Becky Brown fought for the No. 1 spot on the junior national kayak team. On July 11, she finally landed it.
The Monktonteen won the girls kayak title at the Junior National Canoe and Kayak Championships on July 11 on the Nantahala River, near the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.
After finishing third at the 1990 team trials, Brown moved up to second at this year's trials. She had been the heir apparent to the top spot after both girls who finished ahead of her last year graduated to the senior level. So, Brown felt vindicated by the victory.
"It makes me feel like, yeah, this is where I should be. It's good to live up to your own expectations," said Brown, 17.
For the past two years, Brown has trained and competed on some of the most challenging rivers in the United States, Canada and Europe. That experience has been a big factor in Brown's rise to the top, said Fritz Haller, the national development coach for the U.S. team, based in Wausau, Wis.
"Right now, she's kind of got her respect," said Haller, a Glencoe native and two-time world champion in two-man canoe. "She's gotten a lot stronger, and she seems to just have a lot of confidence. She won pretty easily. She had her boat in the right position the whole time."
To win the junior title, Brown had to negotiate more than 20 gates hung over a white water slalom course on the rapids of the Nantahala. Racing against the clock, kayakers receive penalties for missing or touching gates, some of which they have to pass through going upstream.
Each kayaker ran the course twice, with the best time counting toward his or her final place.
Brown's winning time came on her first try. She touched just one gate.
"It was just a consistent run," Brown said. "It wasn't incredibly fast. I could have gone faster, but I didn't swim or miss any gates and that was enough."
Brown had little time to celebrate her victory. A couple of days later, the junior team headed north for more racing and training.
After camping overnight Sunday at Brown's house, the team set out for a three-week, six-race tour through Quebec and Ontario. On the first weekend in August, they will be in Wausau for the senior national championships.
Although winning the junior title did boost her stock, Brownstill has a lot of work to do to reach her ultimate goal -- a spot on the 1996 Olympic team. Only three kayakers will make the team in her event.
"(Winning) doesn't really change many things. I still have to train just as hard," Brown said.
Haller, who will serve as assistant coach for the 1992 Olympic team, says Brown has a tremendous battle ahead of her, especially since she will spend the next four years in college. George Washington University, where Brown will be a freshman in the fall, is practically next door to the Potomac River feeder canal where many of the nation's top kayakers train.
"But that could backfire on her," Haller said. "A private university like that gives a freshman a lot of work. It seems like they try to fill up every minute, so I'm wondering how she's going to be able to deal withthat."
Since Brown has adjusted her goal from the 1992 Olympics to the 1996 games, she is confident she can handle school and training. She will also be finished with college in time to devote a whole year to training for the 1996 games.
Haller has no doubt that Brown will give it her all to make the Olympics.
"She's not the kind whojust sort of jumps out of something," he said. "She's a hard worker.She takes two steps forward for every step back, so she's steadily moving forward. Now that she's at the top of the junior class, she doesn't want to go back."