Kayakers, canoers aim for Athens

Sun Staff

This weekend is the last chance for whitewater slalom kayakers and canoersto 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, willcomplete a field of 90 athletes for the South Bend competition.

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

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

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

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

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

Dickerson, driven by warm-water discharge from a power plant, is straightand 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 alot 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 thesaltwater in the Athens course, which "stings the eyes like heck," saidParsons. "Goggles are not an option. We experimented with them. The water justbeads 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 tellwhat's going on under that foam," he said. "The paddle just goes right throughand you don't know where the green water is."

Media player

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

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

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

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

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

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

The daughter of two University of Maryland graduates said making thebasketball team "is totally different. In 1996, I was 17 and didn't fullygrasp 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 betterhaving 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 Paralympicsbasketball tournaments from Sept. 18 to 27.

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

Wrestling team fills out

With the qualification rounds completed, the U.S. men's Greco-Romanwrestling squad has clinched spots in all but one of seven categories, the163-pound class. Athletes to fill the weight classifications will be selectedat the team trials from May 21 to 23 in Indianapolis.

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

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