Originally published to Citizen Times - October 21, 2020
Evy Leibfarth, of Bryson City, roared back to the international paddling scene this weekend at the International Canoe Federation Canoe Slalom World Cup in Tacen, Slovenia.
The 16-year-old, who had been steering a solid track toward a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team this summer in Tokyo before it was canceled, earned a double bronze at the highest-stakes race outside the Olympics.
Paddling against the best slalom athletes in the world, and not having competed for eight months due to the global coronavirus pandemic, Leibfarth showed she been not been slacking in her slalom training. She took bronze in the women’s canoe (WC1) and women’s kayak (WK1) races.
“I am really happy with my runs at the World Cup! Going so long without racing during quarantine was really hard, as racing is how we, as athletes, measure our progress, and beyond that, learning and figuring out how to race well is such an integral part of canoe slalom,” Leibfarth wrote the Citizen Times by email from France.
“When I started my first run at the race, I was able to remember what to do, and just focus on my paddling and nothing else. It was such a great feeling to start the race off with a solid day, and I was confident going into the semis and finals,” she said.
Romane Prigent, 21, of France, won gold and her cousin, Camille Prigent, 22, took silver Oct. 17 in the kayak race, in which paddlers race downriver as fast as humanly possible without touching or missing a gate, which adds time penalties.
In the Oct. 18 canoe race – where paddlers kneel in a decked canoe using a single-bladed paddle - two-time Olympian Ana Satila, 24, of Brazil, won gold, followed by Lucie Prioux, 23, of France.
The Slovenian course was the same one where Leibfarth made history in June 2019 by becoming the youngest woman to medal at an ICF senior World Cup when she earned a bronze medal. She also became the first U.S. woman to medal in women’s slalom canoe at that race.
In September 2019, Leibfarth qualified a spot for the U.S. to compete at the Tokyo Olympics with her kayak run at the ICF Slalom Canoe World Championships in Spain.
Leibfarth, who paddles with the Nantahala Racing Club and trains at the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, is coached by her father, Lee Leibfarth. She attends the K12 International Academy, an online school, from which she will graduate in December.
She was at home in Western North Carolina for much of thepandemic, after last racing at the Australian Open in February, training at the NOC and in a home gym setup.
The Slalom World Cup was the first international event this year, and has been under strict COVID-19 guidelines, according to the ICF.
Leibfarth said athletes had to wear a mask at all times, except when they were on the water, and had to stay in areas separate from the spectators, which were few.
“It was quite different without the normal crowd. I am friends with so many of the athletes, so staying distanced from them and not being able to give a hug of ‘congratulations!' was also different,” she said.
Next up for the teenage paddling phenom is the second and final ICF Slalom World Cup Nov. 6-8 in Pau, France.
The Olympics, which were to be held this past August, have been rescheduled for summer 2021 in Tokyo, where women’s slalom canoe will debut. Leibfarth said “so much is up in the air” as far as team selection due to COVID, but she feels like she has a good shot after this weekend.
“This is the course where I won my first ever world cup medal last year, so it’s special to come back home with two more bronzes,” she said.
To learn more about K12 International Academy, visit https://www.k12privateacademy.com/.