Evy Leibfarth makes waves as a teen in three different events in one Olympic sport
Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit NBCSports.com/hometownhopefuls for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.
It’s common for American teens to emerge as international medalists in multiple events in sports such as gymnastics, swimming and track and field.
What makes North Carolina native Evy Leibfarth unique is that she’s doing it in canoe and kayak.
An American last made an Olympic podium in her discipline -- slalom -- in 2004. Only once in the last 75 years has an American won multiple medals at one Games in the sport.
Leibfarth’s experience on the water began in the womb. Her mom, Jean, worked as a raft guide on the Nantahala River, even while pregnant with Evy.
Twenty years later, Leibfarth is breaking up European and Oceania domination and doing so in three different events.
Look at her world championships medal record since her Olympic debut in Tokyo at age 17 (as the youngest woman in her events by three years).
Her highlights include 2021 World Championships bronze in kayak cross (as the youngest woman in the top 29), an event that makes its Olympic debut in Paris.
Unlike individual slalom, in kayak cross multiple athletes race in the water at the same time, dropped from a ramp at the start.
Then at last month’s U23 World Championships, Leibfarth won the kayak slalom and took bronze in the canoe slalom. In each event, she was the youngest athlete in the top 10.
Consider that only one man or woman has won a slalom medal in both canoe (single-bladed paddle, on your knees) and kayak (double-bladed paddle, sitting) at one Olympics.
Women only had one slalom event at the Olympics (kayak) until canoe debuted in Tokyo. In Paris, they’ll have three events with the addition of kayak cross.
Which brings up Leibfarth’s two goals: to win an Olympic medal and to get more women involved.
She finished 12th and 18th, respectively, in kayak and canoe in Tokyo as the only teenager in either event. She was one of the few athletes who had family on hand at an Olympics that were without ticketed spectators.
That’s because her dad, Lee, doubles as her coach. Lee was a national teamer and said he missed the 1996 Olympic team by about two seconds.
“She really wanted to be on the podium [in Tokyo], and so I think there was a little bit of disappointment, but at the same time I think she was very motivated to get back to the Olympics, and to have another shot at winning a medal,” Lee said.
Leibfarth’s medal prospects for 2024 will come into clearer view at the world championships in London from Sept. 19-24.
"[Tokyo] was a really big learning experience for me,” she said. “Being in the [athletes’] village and seeing all of that and being on the start line at the Olympics and realizing that there were so many of my friends and family watching me do the thing that I love was just incredible. I really hope that I get another chance to do that in Paris.”