Hurd and Larimer finished 12th out of 14 teams in the C2 slalom preliminary heats Monday, falling just 2.31 seconds short of the 10th and final semifinal spot. Time penalties plagued the American team’s two preliminary runs and proved the difference between qualification and an early exit.
“We had a pretty solid run. We were on lines, but we just rushed a couple of moves and just kind of nicked the poles,” Hurd said from London. “That’s the name of the game for our sport — you hit the poles and you have seconds added onto your time.”
The teammates’ fathers had paddled together two decades ago while training for the Olympic trials, and Larimer’s father, Mike, was a coach for the American canoe/kayak team at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
It was through that relationship that this generation’s Hurd and Larimer first met.
Hurd, a Woodstock native who moved to Charlotte, N.C., in 2006 to train full-time at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, had been closing in on his Olympic dream ever since he became the youngest American kayaker to ever compete at the Olympic team trials as a 14-year-old in 2000. Less than two years ago, he began to train for the canoe double slalom with his childhood friend and long-time training partner, Larimer, a Marietta native.
Larimer finished runner-up at the Olympic trials on a C2 team with Frank Babcock in 2004, and after competing as an individual for four years, he again placed second — this time in the C1 trials — in 2008. He and Hurd clinched their first Olympic berth with a gold medal at the 2012 Pan American Championships in March and a ninth-place finish at a World Cup event in June.
The Olympic slalom course at the Lee Valley White Water Centre was set up at a slight advantage for “bow right” C2 teams, whose lead paddlers paddle on the right side of the boat. As a “bow left” team, Hurd and Larimer adjusted well to the course’s layout, but they were done in by their close encounters with the slalom poles.
The lightest of brushes with the hanging gates kept Hurd and Larimer from qualifying for the semifinals — both paddlers appeared surprised to have been assessed as many penalties as they were after finishing their final run.
“With one of those penalties taken away, we would’ve tied for the last place,” Hurd said, “and if we wouldn’t have had any of those penalties, we’d easily be in the semifinals.”
Despite their early exit, Hurd and Larimer absorbed as many memories as they could from their first Olympic experience. They participated in the opening ceremonies along with the rest of Team USA and were able to meet members of the track and field, handball and basketball teams as they entered the stadium.
Larimer said NBA stars Deron Williams and James Harden complimented him on the handlebar mustache he’s grown for the Olympics.
“It was pretty special walking out of the tunnel and into the stadium,” said Larimer, who celebrated his 31st birthday Wednesday. “That’s kind of when it hit us. I think it took two hours for everyone to march from the village and then actually walk in, so we were kind of lulled to sleep at that moment. But once we walked in, it was really cool.”
Hurd and Larimer will stay in London until Tuesday before returning home to regroup before the start of the next competition season in March. Citing the financial strain of training full-time, both canoers are unsure of their Olympic futures.
Larimer, who worked part-time carpentry jobs during his training, earned his degree in geology from Georgia State last December and hopes to pursue that career path further once he returns home. He plans to either attend graduate school or find a job in environmental remediation in the Atlanta area.
The 26-year-old Hurd takes classes at Gaston College in Dallas, N.C., and works part-time for a local retirement community, but he describes himself as a full-time athlete.
“We still have a lot of time,” Hurd said. “We are a fairly new C2 team. We could set our sights high for (the 2016 Olympics in) Rio, but, at this point in time, we haven’t really made final decisions or not whether we would stay in it for four years. Four years goes by really quick, but it takes a lot of commitment, not only from the athlete but from supporters. If we can get everything lined up, where we’d be able to get a little help for the next four years, we’ll definitely go for Rio.”