Wednesday, July 16, 2008

McHENRY, Md. | Kayaker Scott Parsons is returning to the Olympics feeling on top of his game but somewhat sheepish about being cast as a role model to his younger teammates.

As the only Olympic veteran on the U.S. whitewater slalom team, Parsons, 29, said the Olympic Village offers plenty to distract dazzled newbies. But the Sylvania, Ohio, native said he’s not the type to lecture his three teenage teammates.

“I may have something useful here and there to say but I’m not really going to try to push it on anybody — other than enjoy it,” Parsons said during a training break Tuesday in western Maryland. “Focus when you have to and then enjoy it.”

Parsons and the team’s other male members — canoeists Benn Fraker, 19, of Charlotte, N.C.; Casey Eichfeld, 18, of Drums, Pa.; and Richard Powell, 19, of Parkesburg, Pa. — are training through Friday at the Adventure Sports Center International in McHenry.

Kayaker Heather Corrie, 36, is spending some time at home in Britain before the team leaves July 26 for Beijing.

Parsons, who now lives in Bethesda, is the United States’ best hope for a whitewater medal in the K-1, or one-man kayak class, which has historically been dominated by Europeans.

Ranked ninth in the world, Parsons finished sixth in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and is feeling in top form.

“I’m under the impression that there is peak, and I think I’m pretty close to mine or at it,” Parsons said. “Last year was my best year ever and this year I feel good.”

Coach Silvan Poberaj, also based in Bethesda, said Parsons has the potential to do well in Beijing.

“It’s a fast, challenging course, and it seems to me he paddles pretty well on that kind of course,” Mr. Poberaj said.

The Olympic athletes will compete individually against the clock on a re-circulating whitewater course, comparable to those in McHenry and at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, N.C.

While training for the games, Parsons is on leave from his job making prostheses for wounded war veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda. His employer, Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics, is co-owned by Michael Corcoran, a former Irish whitewater athlete who competed in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games.

Parsons said working with war amputees has kept him humble.

“Those guys are there rehabbing from these horrific injuries and their outlook on life is so inspiring,” he said. “It’s very easy to step back and take stock of your own life when you’re around people like that.”

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