The race was eventful, to say the least. I over ran my warm-up time about 500 meters away from the start and found myself having to set my new personal record for the 500 meter flat-water time trial in a slalom boat to make my start. 174 seconds from the warm-up gates to the electric eye, a record that still stands, I will bet on that. I actually had to slow down once I crossed the electric eye to catch my breath before I self destructed. I managed to put down a decent time and a clean run on a 106 second course after my 174 seconds of sprinting. I can’t tell you how I beat myself up for that screw up. On my second run I had a faster time but hit a gate and my first run stood. I finished 13th in my only Olympic race. I was the top American finisher with Rich getting 16th and Scott getting 27th, but I wanted to win (imagine that).
The next year I was trying to do something nobody had done before. I was going to try to make the US Team for Slalom, Freestyle, Wildwater, and Flatwater. To make a long story short, I only made the Freestyle team and missed the wildwater team by one place, the slalom team by two places, and skipped out on the flatwater team after some of the flatwater coaches told me (incorrectly) that I could not compete if I did make the team unless I gave up the other disciplines. The good news is that I was finally able to focus on freestyle only. I showed up to my first freestyle world championships as somebody who didn’t have a chance, according to Corran Addison, and won. I was finally able to show off my playboating skills. It was an incredible boost to my confidence since I had been trying to be number one in the world full time for 9 years and failed. At that race I introduced the paddling world to my new son, Dane, who was only 4 pounds at four months old. He was a miracle baby born at 1 pound 10 ounces, 3 months early and expected to die or have serious problems. He hung out at the World’s in his car seat all hooked up to a breathing and heart rate monitor because he had serious apnea (where you just stop breathing but aren’t old enough to know that the bad feeling you are having won’t go away until you start again, then you turn blue and die unless something or somebody jars you and you start again)
In the fall of 1993 I was full throttle in slalom again. I had a new coach in Sylvan Poberj from Slovenia since Bill Endicott retired. I learned new techniques and showed up hungry to trials that year. I shaved my head and had a mean looking goatee. I will never forget Fritz Haller’s words when he saw me. He said, “Boys, you are in trouble, EJ’s back and looking like he means business.” My confidence was back and I made the team second to Rich Weiss on the first day. The next three years were all about slalom. I went to the 1995 Freestyle World Championships in Germany but slammed the bottom after 10 seconds into my first finals ride and injured myself bad enough that I couldn’t move my left side enough to get my paddling gear off. I had to watch the rest of finals which left me in 13th place, and then miss four months of paddling following it.
1996 was a big year for me. I “sacrificed” for the first time in my career. I truly wanted to be playboating and river running and get out of DC, but stayed to train for the 1996 Olympics. This was a bad plan. My entire self-image and life plan was to do what I really wanted to do and then figure out how to make it work financially, etc. Well, I trained hard and had my new boat design I made with David Knight the “Rocket”. It was made especially for the Upper Ocoee course. I can honestly say that I was as ready to win as I ever was, and trained up with no holds barred. CBS “48 Hours” was doing a profile on me competing in the Olympic Trials which many thought was a distraction, but for me it kept my mind from obsessing.