The road to Rio is complete for Paris Henken.
Henken became the first female from the College of Charleston ever to qualify for any Olympic Games after being named the U.S. Sailing Team’s selection in the Women’s 49erFX for the 2016 Rio Olympics on Friday.
Henken, with teammate Helena Scutt, completed a grueling campaign in order to put themselves in this position to qualify for the Olympics.
Following a bronze medal at the Pan-Am Games over the summer, they were the highest-finishing American team at the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Miami (17th place) that took place at the end of January. This week while at the 49erFX World Championships in Clearwater, Fla., Henken and Scutt needed only to beat the other American competitors to earn the spot. With a ninth-place finish in the qualifying round, and the other American teams failing to advance to the Gold Fleet racing over the next two days, Henken and Scutt earned the selection.
“We are a very happy team tonight, and we’ll go out there in the next two days and sail our best,” Henken said. “The feelings haven’t really sunk in yet, but we are more than excited and proud of our performance.
“Our goal going into the regatta wasn’t just to beat the other Americans, but also try and perform our best, and so far, that is what we have been doing ... ultimately, the goal is to try and finish in the top 10. It is normal to feel some sort of nerves going into the event, but you just have to focus on the details and not forget all the time and effort spent getting to where we are now.”
Henken, a sophomore from Coronado, Calif., will be the fourth sailor — past and present — sailing in Brazil with ties to the College of Charleston sailing team.
Juan Maegli, who was the nation’s 2013 college sailor of the year, will represent his home country of Guatemala for the third time (2008, ’12 and ’16). Maegli was the flag bearer for Guatemala during the opening ceremony in 2012 and finished ninth in the Laser Class at the London Games. He finished in the top 40 during his first Games at Beijing in 2008. Joining Maegli this August in the Laser Class will be first-time Olympians and current College of Charleston team members Stefano Peschiera (Peru) and Enrique Arathoon (El Salvador).
“We’re so proud of how hard Paris worked and what she accomplished,” said College of Charleston director of sailing Greg Fisher. “To sail so well in the incredibly tough conditions this week at the Worlds is indicative of her tremendous talent.
“All of us at C of C Sailing are so fired up to see our teammates Stefano, Quique, Paris and Juan sail in Rio at the games.”
Americans Jim Brady (1992 silver medalist in Soling Class) and four-time Olympian John Lovell (1996, 2000, 2004 silver medalist in Tornado Class, and 2008) are the only other College of Charleston sailors to compete at the Olympics. Andrew Lawrence (2012 basketball for Great Britain) is the only other Cougars athlete to participate in the Olympics.
Henken, 20, will be the second female to sail for the College of Charleston with Olympic experience when she returns to the Lowcountry for the fall 2016 semester. Deborah Ong competed in the Women’s 470 for Singapore at the Beijing Olympics before she enrolled at the College of Charleston and graduated in 2013.
Follow Luke Reasoner on Twitter @lukereasoner