Canoe: Cool exterior belies U.S. team's competitive spirit

LONDON Wed Jul 25, 2012 11:21pm EDT

Eric Hurd reacts as he crosses the finish line in the men's K1 during the U.S. Olympic Trials for Whitewater Slalom in Charlotte, North Carolina April 14, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Eric Hurd reacts as he crosses the finish line in the men's K1 during the U.S. Olympic Trials for Whitewater Slalom in Charlotte, North Carolina April 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Chris Keane

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LONDON (Reuters) - Mustached, bearded and decked-out in Team USA baseball caps, men's slalom canoe double-team Jeff Larimer and Eric Hurd look too relaxed to be debut Olympians seeking a first U.S. medal in the event for 20 years.

The U.S. canoe-kayak slalom team speak with sincerity about how highly they value walking away from the London Olympics with a performance they can be happy with, and that success would be a well-executed game-plan.

That is, until team veteran and three-time Olympian Scott Parsons - a competitor in the men's single kayak event - interjects.

"We do all want medal though, let's make that clear," he said, prompting guffaws from his team mates and making clear the competitive ambition running below the surface of the five-person team.

Singles canoe racer Casey Eichfeld, the only other athlete with previous Olympic experience in the team, quickly adds: "Maybe there are athletes out there who want to come to the Olympics just to solely compete in the Olympics. But I think each and every one of us up here we want medals, you know?"

To achieve that goal the U.S. team face an uphill struggle.

Larimer and Hurd must overhaul the all-conquering Slovakian twins Pavol and Peter Hochschorner if they are to win the country's first gold medal in the event since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

"They're a very very strong team. Absolutely fabulous paddlers, flawless. They're masters at the sport," said Hurd.

"(But) once you crunch the numbers down to those final six athletes, in our sport there's so many variables. They could take a touch or kinda bobble on a move and take a couple of seconds and there's other people that can slide in."

Even if the duo are unable to bring home a medal, Larimer admits that one souvenir from the games will mean a lot to his father, a fellow canoer who missed out on a place at the Barcelona Olympics.

"He's just excited to come over and watch ... and he wants the tie from the opening ceremony."

(Reporting by William James; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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