Michal Smolan blasts through the water during semifinal competition at the 2012 International Canoe Federation Junior & U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships at Wausau Whitewater Park on Friday. / Dan Young/For Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com
Facing a new-look course and with just one run, the pressure was on for the United States' Michal Smolen and Rick Powell in the Men's U23 kayak single semifinals.
The American duo handled it with flying colors, qualifying for the finals with top-5 finishes at the 2012 International Canoe Federation Junior & U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships on Friday at Wausau Whitewater Park. The top 10 finishers in Friday's semifinals advanced to the finals.
"I feel good,'' Smolen said. "The most important thing is trying to clear my head for (today). It's another race, and it's the most important one.
"It's pretty big (to have two Americans qualify for finals) in an event like this. I think it's a good thing, and it shows we've been working hard."
Smolen, the top seed entering the semifinals, was the last to take the course. But the 18-year-old didn't allow himself to be nervous -- not before the race at least -- and is seeded second entering today's final.
"I had a full day off (Thursday), so I had to get away and relax and forget what happened in qualifications," said Smolen, who completed the course in 106.95 seconds. "While doing that ... I felt kind of nervous. But once (Friday) came, I got everything figured out, cleared my head and focused on exactly what I needed to do to make the final."
Powell was the polar opposite, but believes that mindset perhaps worked in his favor as he qualified fourth for the finals.
"The run was pretty good for me," said Powell, whose time was 107.03. "The course was a bit harder today. I still had a faster time than I did the other two runs in qualifications. I don't really know (why it was faster) -- I was much more nervous than I was on qualifying runs. Maybe that put a spark under my butt."
The Czech Republic's Ondrej Tunka is the top seed for the championship race, 0.16 seconds ahead of Smolen.
Caroline Queen knew she would have to wait after her semifinal run in the Women's U23 kayak single to find out if she would be taking the course for the championship.
After a few tense moments, Queen could smile as she qualified eighth for today's final.
"My goal was to be first after my run, and I accomplished that," said Queen, who completed the course in 132.46 seconds. "In the semifinal, you have to give it all and sometimes when you try to cut lines or push a littler harder, you can make mistakes. In the final, I'll try to improve.
"It's still kind of new to me (to be in the finals). I knew if I paddled well, I would make the final. I tried not to let that expectation get to me, but at the same time I wanted it to motivate me."
Eva Ornstova of the Czech Republic is the top seed for the final with a time of 119.55 seconds.
Fellow Olympian Casey Eichfeld did not have as much luck in his semifinal run in the Men's U23 canoe single.
Eichfeld, who was seeded 12th, overcame an early mistake and looked to be in good position before faltering late and finishing 17th.
"It didn't go the way I wanted it to," he said. "At the bottom, I was low on energy and didn't compensate for that and it feel apart there on the last couple gates."
Still, the two-time Olympic team member tried to look on the positive side.
"That's part of racing, and it's more experience,'' he said. "I've learned something from it, and so it's still good experience going to the Olympics. Whatever happened here, it was a learning experience to help me out in London."
On the river
The only other American who will be taking part in the finals is Micki Reeves.
Reeves advanced to the Women's U23 canoe single championship race today, and she is seeded eighth.
The top seed in the Men's Junior canoe single, Zach Lokken, barely missed qualifying for the finals as he was done in by numerous penalties that knocked him into 11th place.