TOKYO (AP) — American teenager Nevin Harrison surged over the back half of the women’s canoe 200 sprint race to overtake Laurence Vincent Lapointe of Canada for the gold medal in the event’s Olympic debut Thursday at the Sea Forest Waterway.
The 19-year-old Harrison, who won the 2019 world title at age 17 when the Canadian was serving a provisional doping suspension that was later overturned, burst into tears and held her hand to her mouth before paddling in after the finish. She fought back tears again at the medal ceremony before cradling the gold next to her cheek.
Harrison, a Seattle area native who has been training near Atlanta for the past year, had been known to cry before races as a pressure release method. She had all the energy and composure she needed to rally from Vincent Lapointe’s early lead and blow past her chief rival for the win.
She is the first American woman to win a canoe sprint gold medal, and the first to win any kind of medal since 1964.
Vincent Lapointe was the standard-bearer in the event with six world championships since 2010. The Olympics added the event as part of gender equity efforts, and the Tokyo Games were the first time the two best paddlers in the world had met on the water.
The Canadian’s quick start suggested a strategy to break the American early before Harrison’s sheer power and steady but furious stroke reeled her in and passed her at the halfway point. Once in the lead, Harrison was just too strong to catch. She won by a half boat length before pumping her arms in victory.
Lapointe surprisingly didn’t qualify for the canoe 200 at Olympic trials, but Canadian officials her put on the team and entered her in a kayak event she doesn’t race. She then switched to her specialty race.
Liudmyla Luzan of Ukraine finished third for bronze.
Vincent Lapointe could still win a gold medal. She is also scheduled to race the canoe double 500, where she and teammate Katie Vincent are favorites to win.
Lisa Carrington of New Zealand took her third gold medal in three days, winning the women’s kayak 500 in with another dominant start-to-finish victory. Carrington won the 200 and double 500 earlier this week and is still scheduled to race the 500 fours.
Sandor Totka of Hungary won the gold medal in the men’s kayak 200, becoming the first non-British paddler to win the event since it started in 2012. Manfredi Rizza of Italy took silver, and defending Olympic champion Liam Heath of Britain won bronze.
Totka beat Heath for the European championship title earlier this year, and his Olympic victory ended in a photo finish that saw 0.045 seconds separate gold from silver.
Thomas Green and Jean van der Westhuyzen of Australia won the men’s kayak double 1,000 meters at the Sea Forest Waterway with a finishing kick over the final 200.
Mox Hoff and Jacob Schopf of Germany were 0.304 seconds behind to take silver. Rodek Slouf and Josef Dostal of the Czech Republic won bronze.
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