Casey Eichfeld crossed the finish line and quickly swiveled to look behind him. Upon seeing his time, the Drums native gave a fist pump, then three loud yelps while leaning back in his canoe to celebrate.
One of his goals had been just to reach the semifinals. On Tuesday, Eichfeld found himself competing for a medal while posting the best finish of his Olympic career.
After managing to squeeze into the finals of the men’s single canoe slalom by a razor-thin margin, Eichfeld took seventh place on the world’s biggest stage.
Eichfeld posted his best time of the Rio Games on his final run, recording a mark of 1:39.69 — 2.22 seconds behind bronze winner Takuya Haneda of Japan. France’s Denis Garguad Chanut won gold with a time of 1:34.17. Slovakia’s Metej Benus took silver.
If not for a pair of two-second penalties for making contact with gates on the course, Eichfeld would have come away with a medal.
“I gave it all that I had out there,” Eichfeld said through a U.S. Olympic spokesman. “Today’s final was extremely competitive with a lot of fast times. I felt really good about my time, but with two touches, it’s hard to break into the podium.
“While I’m disappointed that I didn’t medal, I’m still super stoked and as motivated as ever to get on to the podium in four years.”
This was already Eichfeld’s third trip to the Olympics in the slalom, having taken 14th in the single (C1) in the 2012 London Games and 11th in the double (C2) in the 2008 Beijing Games. Before this week, he hadn’t advanced past the heats.
Taking seventh in the finals was a boost after some tense moments in the semis.
Ranked No. 18 in the latest world rankings in C1, Eichfeld had some work to do, having qualified 12th out of the preliminaries. He needed to improve into the top 10 in the semifinals in order to advance.
Because of two penalties, Eichfeld was behind the mark he had set in the heats, coming in at 1:41.23.
It was just enough.
How close was it? Try nine-hundredths of a second, just edging out Australia’s Ian Borrows (1:41.32) for the 10th and final berth.
Some 90 minutes later, he was back on the course at Deodoro Olympic Whitewater Stadium, enthusiastically celebrating at the end after seeing he had broken the 100-second mark. After the event, Eichfeld went over to congratulate Haneda, who had to wipe away tears upon realizing he had held on to win the bronze.
Prior to the semifinals, Eichfeld told NBC commentators that reaching that stage was an important sign of progress for him and that “everything else was gravy.”
And he’s not done yet.
Eichfeld’s Olympics will continue at 11:30 a.m. Thursday as he teams up with Devin McEwan for the C2 semifinals. The duo qualified 10th out of the heats. Eichfeld, 26, is the first American in history to compete in two canoe disciplines in the same Olympics.