At 17, North Carolina Slalom Canoeist Qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

Leibfarth runs the Sava River during the World Cup in Tacen, Slovenia. / Photo by Jean Folger.

Evy Leibfarth, a 17-year-old slalom canoeist and kayaker from Bryson City, N.C., will be competing in the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo, among the youngest athletes representing the United States. The up-and-coming paddler claimed her spot last week after winning the women’s canoe single (C-1) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Charlotte.

Leibfarth will have a chance to become the first female Olympic champion for the slalom C-1, as the event is making its debut on the women’s side this year—the first time men and women will have the same number of slalom events. The event will be replacing the men’s canoe double (C-2). 

“It’s the first time women’s canoe will be contested in the Olympics, and it would be a great honor to represent the U.S.,” Leibfarth stated last year on a GoFundMe page to assist with her training efforts.

Though efforts have paid off; Leibfarth will get the opportunity to be one of the first Americans to medal in canoe/kayak slalom or sprint since 2004, where Rebecca Giddens earned K-1 silver at the Athens Olympics.  

At her first canoe slalom world championships back in 2019, Leibfarth secured Team USA’s C-1 quota spot with a fourth-place finish in Spain, which allows Leibfarth to compete in both the C-1 and K-1 events at the Tokyo Games, according to Team USA.  

Last Wednesday, April 12-14, was the last day of the first of two slalom trials of the U.S. Olympic selection competitions in 2021. The second will take place during the International Canoe Federation Canoe Slalom World Cup (ICF CSL World Cup) in Prague, Czech Republic on June 11-13.

According to Team USA, the Tokyo Olympic venue is similar to Charlotte’s location as they are both man-made waters with tricky moves, which Leibfarth feels she does best on.

“For me racing is about what I can do, not about what other people do,” Leibfarth told Team USA. “I want to put down runs I’m really happy with. I want to have fun and cheer on all of my friends and be a part of this incredible experience, but when it comes down to it, I’m racing for me and I just want to have fun there.”

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