American Canoeist Nevin Harrison Finally Gets Her Chance


TOKYO — When Nevin Harrison first tried canoe racing at age 12, becoming an Olympian wasn’t the first thing on her mind. It was staying out of the water.

“Balance is very difficult,” he said. “It took me two years not to fall consistently. You have to figure this out before you think about going fast.”

By the age of 17, he was going fast enough to become a world champion.

There are sports the United States is good at and sports it is not. It’s pretty safe to say that kayaking and canoeing fall into the latter category.

In the last world championships in 2019, only one American out of 30 competitions even made it to the finals. That rower was Harrison, who won a gold medal in the 200 meter canoe race. Suddenly, the United States had the brightest young star in canoeing.

Now 19, Harrison was prominent in football, volleyball, and track and field growing up—sports more typical of a young American with athletic ability. But misfortune caused him to turn his attention to the canoe. At the age of 14, he began to feel hip pain. She was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a condition in which the hip socket does not attach properly to the thighbone. “A doctor said there was no way I could compete in sports again,” she said. “It was so devastating for me. I just hoped to be an athlete.”

Running and sports involving running were tough on his hips, so he turned his focus to kayaking. “I’ve been to one of the few places in the country where sports are really popular,” he said while living in the Seattle area.

After learning to stay in the canoe, she began to recover. And then better than that. His rise to become world champion at the age of 17 was dizzying.

“It was nothing but madness,” he said. “I really couldn’t believe it; Things progressed very quickly.”

“I never really had a good understanding when I saw a 16-year-old gymnast competing in the Olympics. Ah, they’re just machines, programmed that way, I thought. But the truth is, being a teenager in a top sport is terrifying. You are still learning about the world, but you are expected to perform at the same level as women who have been doing it for two decades.”

This is further compounded by the fact that Harrison is by far the biggest American star in the sport, the only kayaker or kayaker of either sex to qualify for these Games.

“It was crazy to lead the United States in our sport right now,” he said. “It’s exciting to be that person, but there’s a lot of pressure. It’s hard to represent an entire sport, to get people to think of American canoe and think of me. It’s a huge blessing, but it’s scary sometimes.”

Harrison’s timing is good. The women’s canoe was made Added to games for the first time In Tokyo and its event, the 200 meters, is the contested individual race.

The shortest race in a canoe/kayak takes about 45 seconds. But this is not an all-out line. “It looks like 400 meters on the track,” he said in another event, which lasted about 45 seconds. “It’s a sprint, but there’s a bit of strategy because you can’t go 100 percent for 45 seconds.”

“People have different strategies,” Harrison said. “I’m pushing really hard for the top 50, second 50 just trying to keep going and stay ahead (if I’m ahead) and then top speed in the last 100.

“Some athletes have almost no race plan and are willing to risk anything, but I think it’s most beneficial to have some kind of plan.”

While strength and muscle are important, technique is a big part of kayaking.

“It’s incredibly technical,” Harrison said. “We just have to figure out how to steer by rowing on one side. How far do you want to reach with your sword, when are you coming out. You have to coordinate your hips and the rest of your body.”

“This is a huge thing that the US lacks,” he said. “We don’t have such a deep sports base where you can learn how old rowers did technique. For many of us it comes from YouTube. ”

Harrison will begin his Games on Wednesday. Assuming all goes well in the first three laps of the 200m, he will line up for the final on Thursday. In about 45 seconds, someone will be the Olympic canoe champion. Well, he might be a 19-year-old American and not so many years ago he mostly just thought about not falling into the lake.



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