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In a splash, Olympics disappear for paddlers Final U.S. berths won on Savage River


BLOOMINGTON -- Kara Ruppel traveled the ultimate in highs and lows for an athlete yesterday.

Ruppel, a University of Maryland senior, apparently had made the U.S. Olympic team one minute, then found out five minutes later she was off the team when officials discovered that Seattle's Maylon Hanold actually had earned the third and final spot on the women's single kayak team.

Hanold, in a change of scheduling from Saturday, had the last run of the day and turned in a 161.68 score to take the third spot from Ruppel (165.11), who finished fourth.

"Who will tell my parents?" said Ruppel as she left the scoring area moments after celebrating with family members.

Her father, Robert, who owns Riversport Kayak School in Confluence, Pa., was so excited about the apparent Olympic berth that he went splashing with his hands and feet in the Savage River.

Ruppel's story was the most bizarre of those living on the edge of Barcelona yesterday on the final day of the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Olympic team trials.

There was another sad scene.

Bob Robison of Fairfax, Va., sobbed when U.S. coach Bill Endicott tried to console him several minutes after he barely lost a berth on men's single canoe team behind Bethesda paddlers Jon Lugbill and David Hearn.

Robison was going to Barcelona until he hit the 25th and last gate on his second qualifying run of the day.

Instead, Adam Clawson of Bryson City, N.C., took the third spot.

Robison slammed his paddle angrily on the water after hitting the gate, and then lingered alone for several minutes near the bank of the river.

The big winners were Jamie McEwan, 39, and his men's double canoe partner, Lecky Haller, 34, who is a graduate of Gilman School and Washington College.

McEwan, who grew up in Silver Spring and went to Landon School, is returning to the Olympics after 20 years, tying an American record for the longest span of time between competing in the Games set by Herman Whiton, a yachtsman who competed in 1928 and 1948.

McEwan was 19 when he won a spot on the 1972 U.S. canoe and kayak team and went to win an Olympic bronze medal in the men's single canoe competition.

But McEwan and his whitewater paddlers had no more chances for Olympic glory until this year, when the sport was added after a 20-year absence.

Yesterday, McEwan and Haller grabbed the third spot on the U.S. double canoe team by .86 of a point over the Georgia team of Michael Larimer and Steve Holmes.

"I feel happier now than I did in 1972," said McEwan, who lives in Lakeville, Conn. "Competing in the Olympics is something you never forget. I'll have a lot of Olympic stories for the other guys."

Haller said being in a canoe with McEwan "is like paddling with Superman. He's the guy everybody looks up to."

But when McEwan and Haller crossed the finish line yesterday after their second run of the day and last chance to qualify after failing to make the top two spots Saturday, both felt they were going to Barcelona.

"We didn't have a good run [166.11] the first time and were even worse the second run [171.36]," said McEwan. "Lecky and I both felt we had lost. But no one else put it together. I feel more like they gave it to us than we went out and snatched it up."

The third U.S. spot in the men's single kayak competition went to Eric Jackson, who recently moved from Atlanta to Barnesville in Montgomery County. Jackson said he moved to Barnesville to train on the artificial course in Dickerson, which is similar to the 1992 Olympic course.

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