The U.S. slalom season concludes this weekend at the 2011 ICF Slalom World Championships with medals and Olympic spots at stake.
The event, held in Bratislava, Slovakia, is the first competition where athletes can qualify boats for the 2012 London Games. The Pan American Championships is the next opportunity for the United States to qualify for the Olympics.
"Our goal coming into this season has been to simply qualify slots for the Olympic Games," national teams director William Irving said, according to a statement released by USA Canoe/Kayak. "This is no easy thing to do by any stretch of the imagination as 57 countries will also be vying for these few spots.
"We know that we certainly have the talent to qualify, but it's up to the athletes to apply what they have learned this summer on the course and come out of this competition with the performance needed. It is going to be an exciting few days of competition."
Emphasizing the importance of this event, some athletes have made Bratislava their home base for the past few months in order to adjust to the whitewater.
"Bratislava is a very challenging venue, and the number of competitors in the women's canoe class is steadily increasing, as is the skill level," Hailey Thompson said. "I am a little nervous, but for the most part, excited to see if the cumulative training I have undertaken this summer will pan out in this competition."
Scott Parsons is trying earn a chance to compete in his third straight Olympic Games in men's kayak. Parsons retired after the 2008 Games, but returned in 2010 and reached at least the semifinals in all four 2011 World Cups.
Up to three athletes from a single country can compete in a single class, but only the top finisher from each country will count toward Olympic qualification. The top 15 nations in men's and women's kayak, the top 10 in men's canoe and the top eight in men's double canoe will qualify a single slot for London.