If it ends up being the last time the event is held at the Olympics, Casey Eichfeld was happy to be a part of it.
With the men’s double canoe slalom expected to be cut for 2020, Eichfeld and teammate Devin McEwan squeaked into the finals at the 2016 Games before finishing in 10th place on Thursday.
Ranked No. 31 in the world as a team earlier this summer, Eichfeld and McEwan were not projected to contend for a medal in the event, commonly known as C2. Multiple penalties for making contact with gates on the course knocked them out of the running before they crossed the finish line with a time of 1:57.85 — last among the finalists.
Cousins Ladislav and Peter Skantar of Slovakia won gold (1:41.58), followed on the podium by Great Britain’s David Florence and Richard Hounslow (1:42.01) and France’s Matthieu Peche and Gauthier Klauss (1:43.24).
“It was a blast to get to paddle in the final Olympic C2 final,” Eichfeld said through a Team USA spokesman. “While I’m sad to see the discipline disappear from the Olympic program, it truly was an honor to paddle with such great athletes.”
It was the final run of the Rio Games for Eichfeld, the Drums native who became the first American in history to compete in two canoe disciplines in the same Olympics. On Tuesday, he took seventh place in the men’s single canoe slalom (C1), the best finish over his three trips to the Summer Games.
Whereas Eichfeld was jubilant at the end of his performance in the C1 finals, there was some disappointment on Thursday. At the end of the course, he raised his arms and gave a slight shrug upon seeing the time, which was the duo’s slowest of their four runs this week at Deodoro Olympic Whitewater Stadium.
It was originally recorded as 1:59.85 because of four two-second penalties, but one was overturned after review.
While penalties were costly for Eichfeld in C1 — the two he picked up on Tuesday were the difference between seventh and a bronze medal — he and McEwan would still have placed 10th in the C2 finals without any infractions.
They were better during their semifinal run earlier on Thursday, posting a time of 1:56.26. But it looked at first like it might not be enough to advance.
Eichfeld and McEwan had finished 10th in the 12-team heats on Monday, with 11 making the semifinals. Ten of those 11 would move on to the finals, and it was very nearly the Americans who missed out.
But they managed to pull it off, edging Brazil’s Anderson Oliveira and Charles Correa by less than a quarter of a second (1:56.49) to grab the final spot in the medal round.
It was a familiar feeling for Eichfeld. The Luzerne County native also had to sweat it out in the C1 semifinals, securing the last berth in the finals by an even slimmer margin — nine hundredths of a second.
As it is, Eichfeld will return home with his best showing in both events. He had previously taken 11th in the C2 during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and 14th in the C1 in the 2012 London Games.
Eichfeld already has his eye set on Tokyo in 2020, saying Tuesday that he was “motivated as ever to get on to the podium in four years.”
He almost certainly won’t have a third opportunity in C2, however. The International Canoe Federation has proposed that the 2020 Games drop the men’s C2 event in favor of adding women’s C1.
Gender equality has been a major concern in canoe/kayak at the Olympics, with the Rio Games having 11 men’s events (slalom and sprint) compared to just five for the women. The new ICF program calls for an even split of eight for each in 2020, with the International Olympic Committee expected to ratify it later this month.
Regardless of which discipline he competes in, Eichfeld has enjoyed being part of it all.
“Something I love about the Olympics is that it brings everyone together for a common thing,” Eichfeld said before departing for Brazil in July. “We can all agree on it. I love it, walking into the opening ceremonies with the U.S. team to be seen just as Americans.
“For a little bit, we’re all just humans and we don’t have these stupid differences that make everyone angry. It’s really nice to share that and to be part of that. It’s why I love the Olympics.”