2011 Team Trails @ U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte, North Carolina
Here’s an article of interest from EPSN.com on the 2011 US National Slalom Kayak Team Selections I attended last week at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC. I went to catch-up with the old racing crew and support some junior racers that I worked with in the past that are now starting to make their mark in the sport as they progress into the senior class. Twelve years ago, my former racing club NRC ‘imported’ Rafal Smolen from Poland as new coaching talent, eight years ago his family was able to move to the US to join him, and six years ago his son, Michal, was Kristen’s paddling buddy while they both were learning to paddle and enjoying plenty of swim time in the process. It felt like we spent an entire summer getting Michal to run a class 2+ drop on the Nantahala. After many swims he was able to make it down the Nantahala mostly upright by the end of the summer. Since then Michal has never looked back and has had some impressive results, including winning two of the three preseason races this spring. Michal won four out of the six runs at teams selections (he was second place the two runs he didn’t win), beating the entire US and Canadian field which included 5 X Canadian Olympian David Ford and US Olympic paddlers Brett Heyle and Scott Parsons. Just to put this in perspective, Parsons started racing as a cadet and has been training hard for most of the last twenty years and he was the man to beat when I was on the junior team with him in the mid-90’s. Michal has been in a boat for 6 years and has been training seriously for the past 4 years. Obviously I am a fan of Michal, but by the end of the weekend it was clear he now sets the pace in US slalom racing.
There are some interesting politics going on right now surrounding Michal’s residence status and whether he will be able to represent the US in the London Olympic Games next summer. Though he’s a US resident, he’s not yet a citizen and the US federation is not permitting him to race on the national team this year. In the past, the policy was that a competitor had to be a resident (which Michal is!!) to represent the US National Team and a citizen for a spot on the Olympic Team. One thing is for certain, this kid dominated US Team Selections last weekend and will certainly be a powerhouse in the future. Michal is a really levelheaded teen and was entertaining to be around during the high-pressure race weekend. He was the most focused and calm competitor at team selections and had the racing maturity to turn mistakes into advantages on the racecourse. At a post race interview, the first thing he acknowledged was how much he enjoyed racing with and watching all his fellow competitors step it up during the competition. Depending on his summer European racing plans, we’re hoping to get him out to the Gorge this summer and see what he can do on a ski. Check out his website if you want to see some video footage of him racing; http://www.michalsmolen.com/