Kayakers, canoers aim for Athens

American team officials hoping to secure spots in kayaking, 2-man canoe



March 21, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

This weekend is the last chance for whitewater slalom kayakers and canoers to qualify for the Olympic team trials, from April 2 to 4 in South Bend, Ind.

The event, at the Nantahalla Outdoor Center in North Carolina, will complete a field of 90 athletes for the South Bend competition.

A number of Maryland paddlers have made the cut for South Bend, including kayakers Scott Parsons, who is ranked eighth in the world, Brett Heyl and Sarah Leith, canoer Ryan Bahn and the double canoe team of Bob Bofinger and Brian Zimmerman. All train on the manmade Dickerson Whitewater Course on the Potomac River in western Montgomery County.

Getting to the Olympics is a two-step process. First, athletes must qualify in South Bend. That will cut the field to 15 paddlers. Then the U.S. team will go to Athens, Greece, at the end of April for the international qualifier, which will determine how many entries each nation gets in the four disciplines.

U.S. slalom coach Brian Parsons said U.S. team officials would like to secure two spots each in men's and women's kayaking and one position for a two-man canoe.

Five paddlers and two coaches recently scouted the whitewater course being built in south Athens at the site of the city's old airport.

Brian Parsons said the Dickerson course is rather different from the one in the Helliniko Olympic Complex, scheduled to be completed May 31.

Dickerson, driven by warm-water discharge from a power plant, is straight and fast. The Athens course is circular, with the finish line under the start. Those big bends mean the water runs high on the outside wall, where it loses a lot of its energy.

"It isn't as fast as we thought it would be," Parsons said.

But perhaps the biggest adjustment will come as the athletes deal with the saltwater in the Athens course, which "stings the eyes like heck," said Parsons. "Goggles are not an option. We experimented with them. The water just beads up on them and you can't see."

Saltwater also makes it harder for paddlers to get a read on the current.

"Like ocean water, the [Athens] course gets all foamy and you can't tell what's going on under that foam," he said. "The paddle just goes right through and you don't know where the green water is."

Media player

Susan Katz will not only play in the Paralympics that follow the Summer Games, but she could produce the television coverage of the events to boot.

The Silver Spring woman, who is associate producer of the ESPN nightly talk show Around the Horn, was named last week to the U.S. Paralympic women's wheelchair basketball team.

Katz was one of 12 women and five alternates selected from a field of 38 players at the Women's National Tournament at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, March 3-7.

"I had a really successful 2003 season, and it was probably 80-20 in my mind that I was going to make the team. I was planning for it," she said. "But as it came to the moment, I was thinking, `Oh my God, what if I don't make it?' "

The 25-year-old athlete is a graduate of Quince Orchard High in Gaithersburg and a 2000 graduate of the University of Illinois, where she played on the women's wheelchair basketball team.

She got involved in track and field events at age 11 while living in Northern California and competed in discus, javelin and shot put at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Athens.

The daughter of two University of Maryland graduates said making the basketball team "is totally different. In 1996, I was 17 and didn't fully grasp what the Paralympics were. My only goal was to make the team."

This time, she's a member of a squad, "and I think it will be even better having them around me. ... We work so well together on and off the court."

Eight women's teams and 12 men's teams will participate in the Paralympics basketball tournaments from Sept. 18 to 27.

The U.S. men took the bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. The women did not medal.

Wrestling team fills out

With the qualification rounds completed, the U.S. men's Greco-Roman wrestling squad has clinched spots in all but one of seven categories, the 163-pound class. Athletes to fill the weight classifications will be selected at the team trials from May 21 to 23 in Indianapolis.

Thirty-nine nations, with 140 athletes, will be participating in the Greco-Roman competition.

Games at a glance

When: Aug. 13-29

Where: Athens, Greece

Sports: 28

Countries: 202

Athletes: 10,500

Events: 296


Web site: www.athens2004.com

Flame lit: Thursday

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