U.S. whitewater team looks back, to future

ATHENS — ATHENS -- In many ways, yesterday marked the changing of the guard for the U.S. men's whitewater paddling team.

Two-time Olympians Joe Jacobi and Matt Taylor have most likely competed in their last Summer Games in the double canoe.


Kayakers Scott Parsons, 25, and Brett Heyl, 22, checked out the competition with an eye toward the Beijing Olympics.

Jacobi and Taylor, both 34, finished eighth in the double canoe competition and failed to make the cut for the final round of six boats.


"You'd love to have another opportunity, but that's not what life is about," Taylor said.

As expected, the Slovakian twins Pavol and Peter Hochschorner swept all four races over two days to win their second consecutive gold medal, finishing 3.82 seconds ahead of Germany's Marcus Becker and Stefan Henze.

Jaroslav Volf and Ondrej Stepanek of the Czech Republic, who won a World Cup race on the course in April, earned the bronze medal.

In the single kayak, France won the gold and bronze. Benoit Peschier had a penalty-free run and passed countryman Fabien Lefevre for the gold with an overall time of 187.96. Campbell Walsh of Britain finished 2.21 seconds back for the silver, moving up in the final standings after a scoring change. Lefevre touched one gate for a two-second penalty and settled for bronze.

"I'm disappointed I didn't get silver, but I'm satisfied with my performance," said Lefevre, winner of the 2003 world championships and ranked consistently in the top three.

Parsons recovered from mediocre runs in the preliminary round Thursday to enter the semifinals as the sixth boat in the 10-boat field. But while Parsons had no penalties, he could not match the speed of the top boats and finished ninth, 6.80 seconds behind the leader and missed the final cut.

Heyl, the U.S. team captain, who clocked the fifth-fastest time in the preliminary heats, had a mistake-prone run in the semifinal and fell out of contention with a 15th-place finish.

"I'm definitely looking at Beijing, and this is the first step," said Heyl, a student at George Washington University. "I paddled hard and never really found my groove. I got a lot of experience, and now I know what the Olympics feels like. Hopefully, four years from now, I'll be at the top and favored coming in."


Parsons and Heyl live in Bethesda and train on the Potomac River whitewater course.

Taylor and Jacobi, a Bethesda native, said passing beneath the finish-line banner was a bittersweet moment.

"It was a little bit of a relief, actually, to know that we're sort of done with this stage and we've seen where we stack," said Taylor, an Atlanta teacher. "We want to be noble eighth-placers, if there is such a thing. ... We've got our families to get back to and our girls."

Known as the "Paddling Papas," Taylor has two daughters with a third child due in mid-September. Jacobi has a daughter, 3.

The two whitewater veterans say they hope to turn some of their energy into promoting their sport and scouting talent.

"Maybe it's hard to see now, but I'm sure a lot of good things will come from what culminated today," Jacobi said.