Davidson College kayaker earns trip to Summer Olympic Games

by Cliff Mehrtens

Davidson will be represented in the Summer Olympic Games.

Caroline Queen, a sophomore at Davidson College, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with a 35th-place finish at the women’s kayak at the Slalom World Cup race in Cardiff, Wales on Saturday, June 9.

Queen edged out teammate Ashley Nee, who finished 37th, for the Olympic spot. It will be the first Olympics for Queen, 20, a Maryland native who moved to Davidson two years ago to attend college and live near the U.S. National Whitewater Training Center in Charlotte, where she trains.

Queen will be the only female kayaker on the U.S. team.

“It’s kind of hard to believe at this point,” Queen said. “The selection process is so long. I woke up and couldn’t believe it was here. And now that it’s done, I can’t believe that that’s all she wrote. But it is. It’s pretty incredible and I’m really glad that I’m with my family to share the moment and my teammates and coaches and staff and everybody.”

Queen and Nee were tied in Olympic selection points when the competition in Cardiff began. But Queen held the tiebreaker because she first earned the Olympic spot at the 2011 World Championships in Bratislava, Slovakia. Nee would have had to finish in the top 20 and ahead of Queen last weekend to earn the Olympic berth.

Queen’s two runs down the slalom course weren’t terribly fast, but were good enough to guarantee a return trip to Great Britain. The Summer Olympics begin July 27 in London, England.

“The first (run) had one mistake on it,” Queen said. “I just wasn’t being very patient. But the second run, I just was in the start and (saying), `just buckle down, just do the run, don’t try to do anything fancy, just do the course.’ And that’s what I did.”

Queen’s victory was bittersweet because she and Nee both hail from Darnestown, Md., and are close friends.

Joe Jacobi, the CEO for USA Canoe/Kayak, has seen the women’s friendship and competition up close.

“Before I worked at USA Canoe/Kayak, I had the privilege of coaching Caroline and Ashley,” Jacobi said. “The depth of these young women is beyond words and, as intense as competition can be among lifelong friends, they handle it as well as anyone I’ve ever seen. I know Caroline will embrace the best of the Olympic movement and will drive to the best paddling of her young career in London.”

Queen sat out the spring semester at Davidson to concentrate on training. She plays on a club field hockey team and dabbles in intramural basketball as part of her cross-training activities. When she’s not at the U.S. Whitewater Training Center, she’s usually paddling around Lake Norman.

Queen began paddling slalom at age 9. She started competing at 10, when she began training with Martin Nevaril, the U.S. Junior Team coach. By age 14, Queen attended her first U.S. National team trials. A year later, she became the youngest woman (15) to make the national team.

In 2008, she missed qualifying for the Olympic Games in Beijing, China by a narrow margin. She sat out 2009 because of a severe knee injury, but threw herself into rehabilitation. She regained her national prominence, which culminated in Sunday’s achievement.

“I was very excited,” Queen said. “My parents came over, it’s the first time they’ve ever seen me race internationally. So it was really great to have them here to share the moment.

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