Nevin Harrison sprints towards Tokyo Olympics, debut of women’s canoe

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Author’s note: At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Nevin Harrison won gold in the Olympic debut of the women’s C-1 200m in canoe sprint. She is the first American woman to win gold in either canoe sprint or canoe slalom. 


Originally Published: June 3, 2021

Heading into the 2019 World Canoe Sprint Championships, Nevin Harrison wasn’t expecting to win a world title.

“There’s was no way that an American 17-year-old was going to get first,” Harrison said. “Top six was a stretch.”

And yet… Harrison managed to win the C-1 200m, becoming the first American canoeist to win a world championship medal in canoe sprint.

Harrison wasn’t the only one surprised by the result. Her medal ceremony was delayed because event organizers “couldn’t find the American flag to put up on the flagpole,” she said.

If you’re new to canoe sprint…

There are two Olympic canoe sports: canoe sprint (head-to-head races contested on flatwater courses) and canoe slalom (competitors navigate their way through the rapids). Despite the official sport names, women have never actually competed in canoes at the Olympics. Instead, women have only had kayaking events, while men have had the option to either canoe or kayak.

That will change in Tokyo, where women’s canoeing will make its debut, both in the sprint and slalom disciplines.

And Harrison – thanks to her 2019 world title – is expected to contend for one of the inaugural Olympic medals in women’s canoe sprint.

Other Olympic history on the line in Tokyo

The U.S. isn’t exactly known for its success in canoe sprint. The last American to win an Olympic medal in the sport was Greg Barton, a kayaker who won four medals between 1984 and 1992, a 29-year drought Harrison appears on track to break. Since winning the 2019 world title, Harrison has gone undefeated in the C-1 200m at both World Cups she has entered.

Also in Tokyo, Harrison could become the first American woman to win Olympic gold in either sprint or slalom.

RELATED: 100 ways women can make history at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics

For more on Harrison’s success in canoe sprint and her historic 2019 world championship win, see the video embedded above. 

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