For someone so young, teenager Nevin Harrison has had to carry a lot of weight on her shoulders as she prepared to compete in the inaugural women’s canoe sprint competition at the Tokyo Olympics.

Not only did she enter the competition as the reigning world champion, but she also carried the hope that she would become the USA’s first female canoe sprint medalist since 1964. Some even hoped she would go further, and be America’s first female canoe sprint gold medalist.

And if that wasn’t pressure enough, in the weeks leading up to the Olympics Canada announced it was entering six-time world champion Laurence Vincent-Lapointe in the women’s C1, even though she had failed to win the Canadian selection races.

Vincent-Lapointe was sensationally withdrawn from the 2019 ICF canoe sprint world championships after returning a positive drug test. Harrison stepped up and took the C1 200 world crown.

Vincent-Lapointe was later cleared to return to racing, but in another sensation, lost her Olympic trials and seemed to be out of the Games. Her selection in the Olympics sent shockwaves through the women’s canoe field.

USA Nevin Harrison C1 200 canoe sprint Tokyo Olympics

But those who know Harrison knew she had the mental and physical strength to breeze through the pressure. After all, at age 13 she was told she would never be able to play competitive sport again.

On Thursday in Tokyo Harrison showed maturity beyond her years to outgun the best female canoe paddlers in the world, including Vincent-Lapointe, to guarantee her place in the history books.

“It was stressful, but I felt confident, I knew I could do it, I was feeling good, feeling strong – I was ready,” Harrison said.

“I’ve been working so hard for this, not for as long as some other athletes have been, but it has been a lot of my life, and being only 19, that’s a big commitment to sacrifice a little bit of your childhood to chase after a dream that a lot of people are never going to get.”

USA Nevin Harrison C1 200 canoe sprint Tokyo Olympics

Only six years ago Harrison suffered a hip injury which not only ended her dreams of being an Olympic runner, but also led to her doctor telling her to give up her sporting dreams.

Harrison ignored the advice.

“My stars aligned I guess,” she said.

“It was devastating at the time, but it taught me to be tough, and it taught me not to take anything for granted, and I really haven’t, and I’ve worked really hard every single day to fight my diagnosis and really do it.

“I was told I was never going to play a competitive sport, and I won the Olympics.”

She first dabbled in kayak, but didn’t find it challenging enough, so turned to canoe. Initially she fell into the water more times than she didn’t, but she eventually got the hang of it – and is now an Olympic champion and America’s first female canoe sprint gold medalist.

Not only that, forever she will be known as the athlete who won the very first Olympic gold medal in the women’s C1 200.

“It was exciting, it’s such an honour. I’m a huge fan of this sport too and it’s so good to see we are finally getting that equality, getting those women in the Olympics showing we’re a badass too,” she said.

“I love wearing the Stars and Stripes, and repping the US has been such a dream. The US Olympic team is full of people that I look up to so much, so seeing those people every day in the athlete village was really cool.”

In three years Harrison will get the chance to defend her gold medal in Paris, and then, if the stars continue to align, in front of her home crowd in Los Angeles in 2028.

29-year-old Vincent-Lapointe may also be there. As a pioneer of women’s canoe, the Canadian believes she still has unfinished business.

Harrison is not daunted. She’s the Olympic and world champion, and no longer fears anyone. She got the chance to talk to Vincent-Lapointe during a quiet moment on Thursday.

“Her and I chatted a little bit before the medal ceremony, she’s a great girl, she’s so sweet,” Harrison said.

“It’s so complicated, I can’t speak too much on it, but I’m glad I finally got to race her, it was definitely a kind of face off we’ve been waiting for for a while.

“It was exciting to get on the race course with her, She’s a beast, she’s big, she’s strong, so it was nerve-wracking.”

But nerve-wracking is not a problem for Nevin Harrison.

Pics by Bence Vekassy

USA Nevin Harrison C1 200 canoe sprint Tokyo Olympics

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