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Rising American canoe/kayak star Evy Leibfarth, 20, ready for second Olympic trip

By CLIFF BRUNT AP Sports Writer - | Jun 7, 2024

FILE - United States' Evy Leibfarth competes in the Women's K1 heats of the Canoe Slalom at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. Leibfarth will compete in three whitewater events at the Paris Olympics. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Evy Leibfarth’s first trip to the Olympics didn’t quite go as she had hoped.

Just 17 years old when she competed in Tokyo, she said the pressure got to her as she finished 12th in kayak slalom and 18th in canoe slalom.

Now 20, the American has qualified again in canoe slalom and kayak slalom. She also is set to participate in kayak cross, making her the first American woman to qualify in three whitewater events at the Olympics.

She believes the lessons she learned in Tokyo have helped her prepare for the Paris Games.

“I’m really proud of my training these past couple of years and I think that I’ve done everything I can to better myself for this Games physically and mentally,” she said. “I have a much better head game going into it. And so I’m just excited to see where that takes me.”

Evy’s father and coach, Lee Leibfarth, believes his daughter is ready to handle the pressure and distractions that go along with the Olympics. He said Evy enjoys competing now more than ever, and that has helped her improve.

“It’s fantastic to see how much she loves the sport, and that’s something that we share,” he said. “To be able to share that passion and be able to experience it with her has just been absolutely phenomenal. I’m as excited for her as a dad as I am as a coach, that she gets to go to her second Olympics and compete at that level.”

Evy could perform well in Paris. At the 2021 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Slovakia, she was a bronze medalist in kayak cross. At the 2023 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Britain, she finished seventh in canoe slalom and 12th in kayak slalom. She rolled through the U.S. Olympic Trials this year.

Leibfarth got to watch an Olympic champion up close in Tokyo. She was roommates with Nevin Harrison, who won gold in the 200-meter canoe sprint race.

“She goes out there every day and she lifts super heavy weights in the gym and really pushes herself to the max on the water,” Evy Leibfarth said. “So just to be able to see her through that and do it with a smile on her face is really amazing.”

Leibfarth will have an extra opportunity this time with kayak cross added as an Olympic event this year. Four competitors slide off a ramp and maneuver through an obstacle course. Competitors can use their paddles against each other. They also must execute an Eskimo roll before crossing the finish line; that means flipping 360 degrees into the water, then landing upright.

Evy said the unpredictability makes kayak cross fun.

“Everything’s (normally) so perfectly planned out, and then in kayak cross, all that’s kind of thrown out the window,” she said. “You don’t know what the other girls are going to do, you don’t know which gate you’re going to go to. You have all of these if/then situations and strategy sessions. But it all comes down to very split-second decision-making, which is, you know, definitely a new skill to learn.”

Evy said she won’t put unnecessary pressure on herself after failing to make the most of her experience in Tokyo.

“Honestly, I’m not thinking about my chances because I think in slalom, anything can happen, which is the really cool thing,” she said. “Anyone out there who’s made it to the Olympics could medal and anyone could make a big mistake that costs them the final, and that’s just part of the sport.”

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