It's been nearly 10 months since Darnestown native Caroline Queen and Bethesda resident Scott Parsons earned the U.S. Slalom kayak team its two Olympic slots with their performances at the 2011 International Canoe Federation Slalom World Championships in Slovakia.
The two officially qualified to fill the two U.S. boats at next month's London Olympics with their performances at the final Olympic selection event, the ICF Slalom World Cup No. 1 in Cardiff, Wales, which ended Sunday.
Parsons, who will be making his third consecutive Olympic appearance, finished 11th. Queen, who will be making her Olympic debut, finished 35th.
“It's kind of hard to believe [I'm going to the Olympics] at this point,” Queen said. “The selection process is so long, but it's pretty incredible.”
Parsons, who finished sixth at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, has been the frontrunner in the race to fill the Olympic boat since September. The decision was based primarily on three events: the World Championships in Slovakia, the U.S. Olympic Trials in April and last week's competition in Wales.
“[Each time I have qualified for the Olympics] has been different and I'm equally proud of all three,” Parsons said. “They're just all different and I think that's one thing that makes our sport so cool. It's very rare that you have the same course with the same emotion twice. I kind of enjoy that uniqueness with each result. I'm extremely happy with this one.”
Queen edged out friend and teammate Ashley Nee of Germantown to fill the Olympic slot.
The two were tied in Olympic qualification points heading into last weekend's final selection event. Queen owned the tiebreaker for initially qualifying the boat.
Nee qualified the U.S. boat in 2008 but a dislocated shoulder prevented her from competing for a spot on the Beijing Olympics team.
In order to make her first Olympic appearance Nee needed to finish in the top 20 in Cardiff and ahead of Queen. USA Canoe/Kayak CEO Joe Jacobi had kind words for both Queen and Nee.
“Before I worked at USA Canoe/Kayak I had the privilege of coaching Caroline and Ashley,” said Jacobi, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in canoe slalom. “The depth of these young women is beyond words and, as intense as the 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.”
After an arduous and lengthy race to qualify for London, Parsons and Queen said they are looking forward to a bit of down time. But they won't have long.
The opening ceremonies in London are July 27. Queen said she will head to Europe at the end of June to train.
“It's a relief [to have qualified for the Olympics],” Parsons said. “Honestly, it's hard to describe. The process has been physically and mentally exhausting. At the moment, I'm not sure the excitement is really going to kick in until a little later when I'm a little more rested and really have time to digest the reality of the situation. But I'm very, very excited. I'm really happy.”