WNC paddler Evy Leibfarth qualifies for Paris 2024 Olympics in canoe slalom

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WNC paddler Evy Leibfarth qualifies for Paris 2024 Olympics in canoe slalom

Evy Leibfarth has already qualified for the 2024 Olympic Game in Paris, but she’s not done yet.

The 20-year-old from Bryson City earned her spot for the Olympics in the canoe slalom during the U.S. Olympic Canoe Trials at Montgomery Whitewater Park in Alabama on Sunday, winning the C1 in a time of 114.14 seconds.

Leibfarth will attempt to become the first American woman to compete in three paddling events when she tries to qualify for the kayak slalom and kayak cross during the second stage of the Olympic Trials in Oklahoma City on April 26-27. The events will stream on Peacock starting at 10 a.m.

“The hopes for Paris are, one of the biggest ones would be to just show more people the sport of kayaking,” Leibfarth said at a Team USA media summit Wednesday. “We are one of those niche sports … and the Olympics is a really cool opportunity to show that on a global stage.”

Evy Leibfarth celebrates her top place in the women’s canoe during the awards ceremony for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Montgomery Whitewater in Montgomery, Ala., on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

This is the first year in the Olympics for kayak cross, where multiple paddlers are dropped into the water to race against each other. This marks the first time women’s paddling will have three events, after canoe slalom was added for the Tokyo Olympics.

Leibfarth’s rise to the top of the paddling world has been meteoric since making her first international appearance at 15. She’s a three-time world champion and two-time Pan American Games gold medalist. At the age of 17 in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, she became the first American woman to compete in women’s canoe slalom, an event that debuted in Tokyo.

She earned a 12th place finish in the women’s kayak slalom, narrowly missing a spot in the final, and finished 18th in the canoe slalom. Her eyes now set on Paris, Leibfarth hopes to improve her standing.

Evy Leibfarth competes in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for kayak at Montgomery Whitewater in Montgomery, Al., on Saturday April 13, 2024.

“My first Olympics, I was 17, and I honestly didn’t have that much experience,” Leibfarth said. “When I got to the Games, I had a really hard time dealing with the mental side of it. I was very stressed out and I had a hard time just focusing on my race. I think my mindset has really evolved to more of the journey than the actual results.”

Leibfarth, who was born in Sylva, grew up on the banks of the Nantahala River and started kayaking when she was 4 years old under the tutelage of her father, Lee.

“I got into the sport because my dad was a coach for the national team before I was born,” Leibfarth said. “My parents met while kayaking and my dad is still my coach, so it’s kinda always been a part of my life.”

After earning her spot to represent the United States, Lee got to present Leibfarth with her ticket to Paris and place a beret on her head.

Evy Leibfarth is honored with a “ticket” to Paris and a beret by her father and coach, Lee, during the awards ceremony for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Montgomery Whitewater in Montgomery, Ala., on Sunday, April 14, 2024. Leibfarth clinched her spot on the U.S. olympic team Sunday.

“It was really special,” Lee said. “When they asked me to present her with the ticket to Paris and the beret, it was definitely a really fun moment for me to be able to hand that to her and give her a big hug on the podium.”

Leibfarth’s Olympic journey toward a medal will begin on July 26 at the Opening Ceremony, with the parade of athletes held on boats on the Seine. The women’s canoe slalom opens competition on July 30 with the semifinals and finals the following day.

NOTES FROM TOKYO: Olympic paddler Evy Leibfarth speaks from Tokyo: ‘I’m already looking forward to Paris’

Evan Gerike is the high school sports reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times. Email him at egerike@citizentimes.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanGerike. Please support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Bryson City’s Evy Leibfarth qualifies for Paris Olympics in canoe

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