Nevin Harrison Goes for Rare Olympic Medal in Canoeing
TOKYO – When Nevin Harrison first tried canoe racing at the age of 12, becoming an Olympian wasn’t the first thing she thought about. Stay out of the water was.
At 17, she was going fast enough to become the world champion.
There are sports the United States is good at and sports where it is not. It is pretty safe to say that canoeing and kayaking fall into the second category.
At the last world championships in 2019, out of 30 events, only one American even qualified for a final. That paddler was Harrison, who won the gold medal in the 200-meter canoe race. Suddenly the United States, of all places, had the brightest young star in canoeing.
Harrison is by far the biggest American name in the sport and the only canoe or kayak sprinter of both sexes to qualify for these Games.
She started the competition on Wednesday, winning her qualifying series in 44.94 seconds, then advanced to the final by passing her semi-final on Thursday morning with the fastest qualifying time. That made her the favorite in the women’s eight final later in the day, which was scheduled to start at 10:57 p.m. EST. All races will be broadcast live on Peacock and NBCOlympics.com, and the finals will be broadcast on CNBC at 1:15 am.
Harrison, now 19, stood out in football, softball, and track and field growing up – sports more typical for a young American with athletic talent. But misfortune prompted her to concentrate on canoeing. She started having pain in her hip when she was 14 years old. Hip dysplasia has been diagnosed, a condition in which the hip socket does not connect properly with the femur. “A doctor said there was no way I would play sports again,” she said. “It was super devastating for me. I never expected to be an athlete.
Running and the sports that involved running were tough on her hip, so she focused on canoeing. Once she mastered staying in the canoe, she started to get better. Her upward trajectory to become world champion at 17 has been dizzying.
“It was just crazy,” she said. “I couldn’t really believe it; things were going so fast.
The women’s canoe was first added to the Games in Tokyo, and Harrison’s event, the 200-meter, is the individual race that is contested.
The shortest canoe-kayak race lasts approximately 45 seconds. But this is not a total dash. “It’s similar to the 400-meter track,” she said, another event that takes around 45 seconds. “It’s a sprint, but there is a bit of strategy because you can’t go 100% for 45 seconds.”
“People have different strategies,” Harrison said. “I tend to go really hard for the first 50, the second 50 just tries to keep the pace and try to stay ahead (if I’m ahead), then in the last 100, go up to the top speed.”
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