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Olympic kayaker drowns in Washington river

June 26, 1997

TROUT LAKE, Wash. (AP) _ Two-time Olympic kayaker Richard Weiss has drowned in an accident on the White Salmon River.

Weiss, who finished sixth in the slalom in the 1996 Atlanta Games and 16th at Barcelona in 1992, failed to surface Wednesday after he went over a 15-foot waterfall in the river, just south of the town of Trout Lake, Klickitat County Undersheriff Bill Enderby said.

Weiss moved to nearby Hood River, Ore., after the 1996 Olympics.

Originally from Steamboat Springs, Colo., Weiss, 33, and his wife Rosi were expecting their first child this fall. Weiss hadn’t officially retired but did not try out for this year’s team, said Lisa Fish, spokeswoman for the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Team.

``Many of our athletes are admired for their skill and ability,″ said Terry Kent, the kayak team’s executive director. ``Richie had all of that, but above all he was known for his caring and calm compassion, friendship and class.″

Bill Endicott, coach of the 1992 Olympic kayak slalom team and chairman of the National Whitewater Slalom Committee, said he was shocked by Weiss’ death.

``Husband, expectant father, Ph.D., world silver medalist, two-time Olympian, he was, in short, the best we had to give,″ Endicott said. ``I will never get over his loss, but I hope in time I can learn to live with it.″

The White Salmon is a popular river for kayaking and was running high because of the spring runoff.

The accident occurred shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday. A friend who was kayaking with Weiss tried to find him in the water, then went for help. A kayak team statement said Weiss was wearing a life jacket and helmet.

Klickitat County sheriff’s rescuers had to scale down a 200-foot cliff to reach the site. Weiss’ body was recovered about 7 p.m.

Weiss was an environmental consultant with his own company, Weisswater Associates.

Weiss won the slalom Olympic trials last year and was selected the kayak team’s slalom male athlete of the year. He became the first American to medal in men’s kayak at a world championship when he won the silver medal in 1993 in Italy. He was third overall in the World Cup standings in 1991.

``He was one of this sport’s greatest athletes and role models,″ Endicott said. ``My heart goes out to his wife, Rosi. The memories of our adventures together come welling up. He was so strong yet so calm, decent and generous.″