The word canoe evokes thoughts of languid days spent paddling around a lagoon, maybe even having lunch out on the water. Can you picture it? OK, now push that image out of your head because it has nothing to do with the sprint canoe races that Nevin Harrison wins and then wins again and then wins another time.
Sprint canoe requires athletes to kneel on one leg in the narrow boats and paddle as furiously as they can on flat water to win the race. It takes balance, an incredible amount of core strength and the requisite humility to keep at it even as you fail, often, in the early days.
“It's such a difficult sport when you're just starting,” Harrison told Bally Sports. “It takes close to a year to be able to paddle a boat with any amount of ease. It takes a certain kind of person to have sort of the willpower to stick with it for long enough to the point where they're able to race and be successful in racing.”
Harrison took up the sport at age 12 when she learned about it at a summer camp and found that she clicked with sprint canoe. Just five years later, a 17-year-old Harrison won the sprint canoe world championship in the 200-meter race. The two women on the podium were 12 years and four years older than Harrison.
“A lot of people have underestimated me because I'm young. I’ve kind of seen that as almost an advantage because I know what I'm capable of,” said Harrison, who's now 19. “Being so young, people are amazed that I've been able to even get to the Olympics.”
If last year had gone to plan, Harrison would have already competed at the Olympics, and she would be studying at the University of California in Berkeley. But when the pandemic pushed back the Tokyo Games to this summer, she took an extra year to train and reconsidered her plans. Now, she’s thinking about training for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, maybe even the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028, so she’s going to attend San Diego State, which is a short drive to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.
But before that, she wants to get to be a regular teenager in college who is majoring in kinesiology and taking classes in surfing.
“One reason why I chose San Diego State is because I have so many different options and there's not too much pressure as to what I do,” she said. “I can just see all the majors and figure out what really is my calling. If I find it, I might transfer to Berkeley or another school.”
Before her true college experience, Harrison has a goal to achieve on August 3. She wants to leave Tokyo knowing she put in a performance she can be proud of.
“I mean, my goal is to get a gold medal. I think that's most people's goal when they head into the games,” Harrison said. “But again there's so many factors that go into who wins a race and canoe and kayak. There's wind and lanes that may have a difference in performance. Sometimes the day isn't your day, so I'm trying to keep kind of a positive outlook, no matter how things go.
“I'm just hoping that I can put down my best race and be really proud of what I did. But again, I think I definitely will be disappointed if I don't at least pull out a medal. I'm going for gold, so hopefully, I can do that.”