Nineteen-year-old Nevin Harrison from Seattle has imagined taking part in the Olympic Games for many years, mainly as a track sprinter like in the 100 or 200 meter run.
“My mom always says that when I was four, I watched the Olympics and said, ‘I’m going to go one day, mom,’” Harrison recalled. “She said, ‘Sure, Nevin. What ever.'”
Later this month, Team USA Olympic team testing and coaches will fill out the roster for the Tokyo Olympics postponed. Some well-known names in women’s football from Portland and Seattle, as well as the biggest stars of the WNBA Seattle Storm and a number of long-distance runners from the Pacific Northwest, are likely to be tied to Tokyo. Several other athletes from the region have already secured their places, including Harrison.
When she was in her early teens Harrison was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, a condition that dashed hopes of running the Olympic track.
“It means a lot that my hip joints are too flat,” Harrison explained in an interview. “It makes my hips hypermobile, which makes walking difficult.”
Credit Canoephotography.com via ICF
Nevin Harrison celebrates her victory at the final of the ICF Sprint Canoe World Cup in Szeged, Hungary on May 15, 2021.
Now, less than a year after high school, comes a twist that even she describes as “crazy”. Harrison celebrated her official selection for Team USA for the Summer Olympics. She’s still a sprinter, but in a completely different sport.
Harrison qualified for the rescheduled games in Tokyo in the canoe sprint, in the women’s singles (C1) over 200 meters. Harrison switched to canoeing between the ages of 14 and 15 after being introduced to the sport at the end of a sailing camp on Green Lake in Seattle.
“On the last day of camp, they let us take the sprint boats out and just try it out and I fell in love with it,” said Harrison. “It was super challenging, something that was kind of alien to me in sport because I always grew up pretty athletic. I loved how difficult it was and I really wanted to take the time to master it.”
The wobbly racing canoe Harrison launched into Seattle’s Portage Bay to begin her final block of training didn’t look like the aluminum canoe you might have paddled in summer camp. The competition models are long and thin like a torpedo with a flat spot in the middle for the racer to kneel.
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Sprint canoeist Nevin Harrison (left) and kayak racer Anna McGrory head to training in Seattle on May 21, 2021.
“Let’s get out in the direction of (Montlake) Cut,” she recommended to her training partner on a cool, cloudy May morning. “I think it’ll be sheltered from the wind over there.”
Harrison’s hometown training partner is Anna McGrory, a University of Washington student and kayak racer.
“She’s a beast to train with. It’s great,” said McGrory.
McGrory was amazed at the rapid development of her friend, who in just a few years went from a newcomer to international competition to gold medalist at the ICF Canoe Sprint World Championships 2019 – at the age of 17, no less.
Aaron Huston trained Harrison with the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team for this gold medal.
“She loves to race. She loves to work hard,” said Coach Huston. “The higher the stakes on the line, the faster it got and every performance got better and better.”
Huston said he realized a rare teen talent had joined his team when she set incredibly fast times in the 2018 time trial.
“I thought it must have been a timing mistake,” he said when he saw 21.6 seconds emerge for a 100-meter sprint.
“So we did it again and she got 21.7,” Huston said in an interview. “So I knew then that she had the chance to do something very special in this sport.”
Credit Tom Banse / NW News Network
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Canoeist Nevin Harrison began her last training block before the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics in mid-May in Portage Bay in Seattle.
Men’s canoe races have been part of the Summer Olympics since 1924. But Harrison has a chance of winning the first ever Olympic gold medal by a woman in her discipline because the women’s canoe is on the Olympic program for the first time. It was added as part of a push for gender parity in the games.
“She’s doing something that no one has ever done for the (United) States,” said McGrory. “It was amazing how she inspired younger paddlers. She inspired a lot of kids in the United States to do this.”
McGrory’s discipline, kayaking, has been an Olympic sport for women since 1948.
Harrison said the one-year delay in hosting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is likely to benefit her.
“I see it as a kind of blessing,” said Harrison. “I don’t think I was ready to go to the Olympics last year. I had an extra year to train and kind of mature and understand what kind of athlete I want to be. It was really amazing. I feel much better.” ready than before. I’m really excited to see what happens. “
Harrison said she was trying to ignore the back and forth in Japan over whether to cancel these Olympics because of the ongoing pandemic. She said she was “really confident” that the Tokyo Games will take place this summer.
“I’m trying not to follow it too closely just because I’m training like it doesn’t matter what happens,” Harrison said.
Harrison spent a good part of the past pandemic year in a training capsule in Georgia overseen by Zsolt Szadovszki, coach of the US national sprint team. The team is based on Lake Lanier, the venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony will be held on July 23 in less than two months. The finals in the women’s 200-meter sprint canoe on the Sea Forest Waterway near Tokyo Bay takes place on August 5th, a straight, shallow watercourse.
McGrory and Huston said paddlers from Ukraine, China and Canada should be podium rivals to watch out for. European nations have dominated the canoe and kayak medal tables at the last Olympic Games, also because the competitive side of the sport in Europe attracts significantly more participants than here.