Sometimes you need to remind yourself that Evy Leibfarth is still just 19-years-old.

It seems the American teenager has been on the international slalom circuit for ever. And it has been more than a fifth of her life. She made her international debut at 15, and has rarely missed an event since. In her first year she stopped the canoeing world in its tracks by winning C1 bronze at a world cup in Tacen, widely considered one of the toughest course on the world circuit.

She completed her high schooling while on the road and under the watchful eye of dad, Lee, and mum, Jean. The family sacrifices were rewarded when Evy qualified for, and then competed at the Tokyo Olympics.

But don’t think of it as sacrifices. As Evy herself is quick to point out, she and her family are living the dream.

“Honestly, every day makes it worthwhile, because every day I get to see my best friends out here, and I get to do the sport that I love and I get to travel to amazing places,” she said.

“It’s not just moments like these, it really is the whole journey that makes it special.”

All of this is just background, as on Thursday in Krakow she delivered the run everyone knew she was capable of, but had often fallen frustratingly short of in the past.

Taking on a women’s U23 K1 final field filled to the brim with paddlers with senior world cup experience, Leibfarth danced her way down the course to post a time even better than she thought she was capable of.

Disconcertingly for her opponents, she was smiling all the way.

Part of paddling is figuring out how to paddle under pressure

“Some of my best runs are the ones where I’m not thinking about my paddling, I’m just reacting and having a lot of fun out there,” Leibfarth said.

“In this run, I was in the third gate and I was just smiling to myself, and saying I’m just going to go out there and have fun, and that’s what I did.

“I kind of had a time in my mind that I wanted, and then when I saw it I thought “oh my God”, because it was better than I even expected. I hit almost all of the moves how I wanted to, and it was just great to improve between my runs.”

The win brings to an end a frustrating post-Tokyo drought for the American teenager. On the eve of the Olympics she had her best result of her career to date, becoming the ICF Junior K1 world champion. But post-Games she found wins hard to come by.

She won a C1 world cup silver, again in Tacen, last year, and also won a kayak cross gold at the junior world championships. There have been no ICF podiums this year, until her breathtaking win in Krakow.

“I think part of paddling is figuring out how to paddle under pressure, which has been a tough point for me over the past couple of years,” Leibfarth said.

“But I think that I’m learning that, and I just hope to keep improving.

Whatever happened I would have been happy

“For sure I was nervous, but I think whatever happened I would have been happy, just because of my paddling. It’s just crazy that almost all of the girls in this final have been in a world cup final before, and racing on that senior circuit. So it’s a really tough field.”

The timing of Leibfarth’s win could not be better, just one month out from the senior world championships, and Olympic qualifers, at Lee Valley in London. Winning form is good form, and Leibfarth is determined to keep smiling her way down whatever course is laid out for her, now that she has cracked top form again.

“It’s been coming for a while, so it’s a really great feeling going into that Olympic qualifying event, because it’s obviously a very important one,” she said.

“But I just have to keep reminding myself to come out here and keep having fun. It’s always good to have that performance that is like, wow, that was really good.”

Leibfarth will get a chance to test her form again on Saturday and Sunday, when she contests the women’s C1 and kayak cross events.

Pics by Damiano Benedetto

USA Evy Leibfarth Krakow 2023

Canoe Slalom