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Seven local athletes begin competing today for a spot in the 2008 Olympic Games
Gainesville-native Morgan House


Listen to Olympic hopeful and Gainesville High grad Katie Hagler talk about her training and what she hopes to gain, outside of a spot on the Olympic team, in this year's Olympic Trials.

For the 100 best paddlers in the nation, the road to Beijing and the 2008 Summer Olympics runs through Oklahoma City, Okla., where they will begin competing today in the U.S. Olympic Team trials for Flatwater Sprint, each vying for a position on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team.

For seven of the top 100, however, the road to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games actually began in Gainesville.

Morgan House, Tim Hornsby, Katie Hagler, Emily Mickle, Emily Vinson, Robert Finlayson and Alejandro Schwedhelm were trained and honed their skills, skills that have them competing for a spot in the 2008 Summer Olympics, at the Lanier Canoe and Kayak Center on Clarks Bridge Road.

"As far as I know, I don’t think there’s not any other club that has that many elite-level athletes in the program and competing this weekend," Olympic trials competitor Hagler said.

"The center is amazing," 18-year-old Vinson said. She is not only the youngest member of the U.S. senior team, but also youngest competitor in this year’s Flatwater Sprint Olympic Trials.

"The facility makes it easy to do high-level training and we were lucky in that we always had the resources we needed to be successful," Vinson added.

"I’m always proud to say that I’m from Gainesville because there’s so much support."

House, whose love for kayaking began while watching the 1996 Olympic Games on Lake Lanier, was the top U.S. male athlete in the singles kayak 1000 meters in 2007 and represented his country at the World Cup and the World Championships.

Regarded by many to be a shoe-in for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, he will be racing in the single-person kayak event in both the 500-meters and 1,000-meters two-person kayak events.

Finlayson and Schwedhelm will team up in the senior men’s 500-meters and 1,000-meters two-person canoe events.

Vinson, a 2007 graduate of Gainesville High, represented the U.S. in 2007 at the Junior (under 18) World Championships and placed in the top nine.

She went on to compete at the 2007 Senior World Championships and placed in the top 18 in the singles event.

Vinson will be racing in the senior women’s two-person 500-meters kayak event and the senior women’s four-person 500-meters kayak event.

"Being the youngest alleviates some of the pressure," Vinson said.

At the same time I know I’m just as well-trained as the older girls, and instead of focusing on being the youngest I just think of myself as one of the athletes.

"I am excited about (the trials). I used to get nervous for races but I had a good year last year and gained some confidence and now I just want to race."

For Mickle and Hagler, training together at the kayak center has culminated in kayaking together in the Olympic trials.

"(The Lanier Canoe and Kayak Center) is a great place to get started," 19-year-old Mickle said. "The people at the center are always there to encourage and the coaches are great. (The coaches) Devri and Dave Robertson are knowledgeable and really push you to your potential."

Mickle, who represented the U.S. in 2006 and 2007 at the World Championships in the women’s two-person kayak and four-person kayak events, will be competing with Gainesville High graduate Hagler in the senior women’s two-person and four-person 500-meters kayak events Friday and Saturday at the Olympic Trials.

"It’d be an amazing experience (to go to the Olympics together). I’ve known Emily (Mickle) for years and years and years and our parents are also good friends so I think our mothers are even almost more excited than we would be if that were to happen. It would mean a whole lot."

The three senior women’s competitors along with their four senior men’s counterparts have spent the last few months, some the last few years, at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif.

"The training center is amazing," Vinson said. "We have kind of been spoiled. It has a cafeteria, sports medicine center and dorms."

Vinson has been in California training since her graduation from Gainesville High in December of 2007, Hagler has been going to the training center off and on for years but made it her home in September.

"We’ve all been working hard," Hagler said. "We have a great coach and great weight room staff and great med staff that’s helped us along the way so I have a lot of confidence in that effort."

The attitudes of the three women’s kayakers going into the Olympic Trials are best summed up by Hagler, "At this point in the game either you’ve done work or you haven’t," she said. "At this point in time I like to think that we’ve done the work so you just have to go out there and do what you’ve trained."

"I am anxious," Mickle said. "My body is ready to race and it’s going to be a great summer regardless of the outcome of this weekend."

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials will also determine the paddlers on the U.S. National Team, the U.S. Junior National Team and the Developmental Team to represent the USA at the 2008 Pan American Championships and Continental Olympic Qualification event this May in Montreal.

For the young Vinson, her outlook on the events of this weekend in Oklahoma City are much the same as her elder Olympic hopefuls, "I’m not going to be bummed out if things don’t work out this time," she said. "The Olympics are my ultimate dream but I’m still young and I still have a few more to try and compete in."

"We are constantly trying to improve," Hagler said, "and looking for evidence that the work (we’ve) done over the last year has paid off."

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