US kayaker earns spot in Olympics

Kayaker Carrie Johnson earned her third straight trip to the Olympics by winning the 500-meter race at the US trials on Friday night, finishing almost a second ahead of Maggie Hogan.

Johnson needed to win the race to claim the United States’ only spot in the Olympics for women. She finished in 1 minute, 57.76 seconds. Hogan was about 5 meters behind and finished in 1:58.71.

Johnson, from San Diego, said it was a feeling of relief as she crossed the finish line on the Oklahoma River, running along the south side of downtown Oklahoma City. Thoughts of her next steps in training and when she’ll leave for London were already running through her mind after she came to shore.

”It’s real,” Johnson said.

Johnson also qualified for the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games, both times missing out on the Olympic finals by finishing one spot too low in her semifinal heat. Her third chance will also be her final one. The 28-year-old has been accepted into the California-Davis veterinary program and will give up chasing the Olympics after she competes in London this summer.

”It’s just different,” Johnson said. ”It was more of a surprise in 2004 but it is just as exciting.”

Johnson had qualified the US for its lone women’s spot in the Olympics by winning two gold medals at the Pan American Games last year, and she was the only one who could wrap up a trip to London by winning.

She’s hopeful she has improved enough to become the first US woman to bring home a flatwater canoeing or kayaking medal since 1964.

”It would be the culmination of 15 years of training. . . . I can’t even describe what I think it would feel like,” Johnson said.

”I’ve definitely gotten stronger and better technically,” she added.

On the men’s side, Hawaii’s Ryan Dolan failed to wrap up the men’s Olympic spot in the 200. He led most of the way but Tim Hornsby of Atlanta passed him in the final 10 meters to win by eight-hundredths of a second.

The two will continue their chase for the lone US men’s spot in the Olympics next month, with whoever finishes higher at a World Cup race in Germany moving on to the London Games.

”I’m a little disappointed in myself because I felt like I was leading and then I, for whatever reason, slowed down,” Dolan said. ”Hats off to Tim. He had a great race.

”Me and him have been going at it for the last two years over the 200. He got me today. It’s unfortunate because I can’t yet go to the Olympics.”

Hornsby paddled his red kayak across the finish line in 37.97 seconds, with Dolan — one lane to his left — right behind at 38.05. The races were held with a flag-stiffening side wind coming out of the north.

”All the guys are paddling really well and Ryan’s obviously an amazing athlete,” Hornsby said. ”I’m just happy to be able to train with these guys and race with these guys. It’s just a good, fun weekend.”

Hornsby and Dolan have competed together, paddling in the same two-man kayak, in other events and Hornsby has roomed with both Dolan and his brother before. But only one will be able to qualify for the London Games.

”It’s always hard because you want everybody to go,” Hornsby said.

Hornsby got into the sport after the 1996 Olympics near his home in Atlanta and, like Dolan, is seeking his first trip to the Olympics. Dolan only got into the sport four years ago after starting out in outrigger canoes in his native Hawaii.

Dolan was the only man who could have clinched a spot in London, having qualified the US for an Olympic berth by winning a bronze medal at last year’s Pan Am Games.

”It’s going to take me a little while for this one to sink in a little bit, just because there was so much buildup to this one,” Dolan said. ”But I’m going to get back up, start training again and that’s my last chance, so it’s going to have to be important.”