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Durango native Zach “Bug” Lokken misses Olympics in canoe slalom

Lokken competed in 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Durangoan Zach "Bug" Lokken reacts after seeing his time on during the finals of a World Cup slalom canoe race in Slovenia in the summer of 2023. Lokken finished second to win his first World Cup medal. (Durango Herald file photo)

Durango will not be represented in the 2024 Paris Olympics in canoe slalom. Durango native Zach “Bug” Lokken just missed out on one of the spots on the U.S. canoe slalom team after a few tough performances at an Olympic quota event and U.S. Olympic team trials.

Lokken, 30, competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics representing the United States and finished seventh in canoe slalom. He would’ve been close to a medal if he didn’t get a penalty in his final run.

“It was a big bummer,” Lokken said. “I was training, not just four years for this, but really my whole life. After Tokyo, I just had a lot of like good feelings and wanted to go and have that experience again without COVID as well. So I just wanted to have that Olympic experience … I wanted give it my all again and try to beat my last performance. But it all started in London, in the Olympic quota. I just had a pretty disastrous last bit of my run and that kind of pushed me to the bottom. I was not completely out but Casey (Eichfeld) had the tiebreaker, so I was below him in ranking because of that tiebreaker.”

Eichfeld beat Lokken out for a spot on the Olympic team. Eichfeld previously made the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Lokken said he was leading at the Olympic quota in London after a great first run with one run to go. Then he heard from the announcer that Eichfeld had a great run before Lokken’s final run. After that, Lokken said he pushed the limit too much in his final run and he made some little mistakes on some really good lines.

On one of the upstream sections, he tried to send it like he did on his first run but Lokken leaned back too much, lost his edge and flipped his canoe. Eichfeld then took the victory after that and had the tiebreaker going into the U.S. Olympic team trials.

The U.S. Olympic team trials were in Montgomery, Alabama on April 13 and 14. Then they were held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on April 26 and 27. To get on the Olympic team, Lokken needed to win both of these events. Because Eichfeld had the tiebreaker, Eichfeld only had to win one of those events.

Lokken won the Montgomery team trials and was feeling good heading into Oklahoma City. But he suffered a small shoulder injury on his first day there. After that, Lokken won the first day on April 26. It all came down to the next day. But Eichfeld put down an excellent run and beat Lokken out for that spot.

“Obviously he deserves it,” Lokken said about Eichfeld. “He trained for it and won the race. In slalom, it's just one person that goes. It was really disappointing. I was really looking forward to it. I was feeling really confident. It was just a lot of eyes on me. Evy (Leibfarth) one of my best friends, is also going and Evy was kind of pretty bummed that I didn't go. To go with Evy a good friend, would have been a really cool experience.”

Lokken said he enjoyed the relatively new Montgomery course. He has more experience on the Oklahoma City course and it was the Olympic team trials site for Rio in 2016. It’s a fast course that had a lot of water in it which Lokken said could’ve been a factor.

After failing to qualify for this summer’s Olympics in Paris, Lokken has his eyes set on the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He will be 34 if he’s able to qualify. The site of the canoe slalom in the 2028 Olympics will be in Oklahoma at the Oklahoma City course Lokken just competed at in April.

Although Lokken wants to qualify for the 2028 Olympic Games, he said he’s going to take an approach that’ll allow him to have more of a family life. This means spending more time in Charlotte with his girlfriend and not traveling the world as much for events. Lokken said the past eight years he’s trained twice a day and traveled to Europe four or five times a year. He also said he’s planning on going to train in Oklahoma as much as possible.

After Lokken has had some time to reflect on his training, he wouldn’t change much about it. He went to Australia and trained with some Czech Republic athletes to prepare. In hindsight, he maybe would’ve changed his boat design but admits it was a very hard decision.

“It was more of a mental battle at the end,” Lokken said. “A lot of the time where I performed well, I just wanted to perform. When I wanted to do well it was because it was what I wanted. But this, it just like felt like such a need. So just a need to perform, instead of just wanting to perform, was that kernel that kind of brought me down.”