In 2011, Smolen won the singles slalom race (K1) at the Olympic team trials, but one thing stood in the way: Smolen was still a Polish citizen. Despite expediting the process, the paperwork to become a U.S. citizen wasn’t complete until six months after the London Olympics. Since then, Smolen has established himself as the top American kayaker, winning the men’s K1 event in the u-23 world championships in 2014, winning gold in the K1 at the 2015 Pan American games and taking bronze in the K1 at the world championships.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.