U.S. boats struggle in early heats

Updated: August 24, 2004, 8:54 AM ET
Associated Press

SCHINIAS, Greece -- Seven-time kayaking gold medalist Birgit Fischer of Germany -- trying to become the first woman to win Olympic medals 24 years apart -- had a strong start Monday. Her four-person kayak never trailed in its 500-meter heat.

Fischer's kayak won its heat by 0.69 over Hungary with China third. The Germans' time of 1 minute, 31.61 seconds was fastest of the day in the event, 0.34 better than Poland, which won the other heat. Fischer's boat advanced directly to Friday's final.

"I feel like I'm in as good shape as all the Olympics before,'' Fischer said. "I'm very determined to go for a medal and I think it helps the other women because the last couple of years they seemed to be satisfied with third or fourth and now their determination to win is back.''

The American women's K-4 boat finished last in the same five-kayak heat but remains in contention. An Olympic format allows boats finishing outside the top three to enter a semifinal.

One of the women on that boat, second-time Olympian Kathy Colin of Kailua, Hawaii, did not appear discouraged and suspects her boat will be better in the semifinal.

"No one is expecting us to do well, and I think were going to surprise some people,'' she said.

But much is expected of the German women.

Fischer, raised in the former communist state of East Germany, began kayaking at age 8 and at 18 became the youngest Olympic champion in her sport when she won the single kayak 500-meter race at the 1980 Moscow Games.

She missed the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics because of the Soviet-led boycott. In 1988 she won two golds and a silver, racing all three women's events in Seoul. She also won a gold and silver at both Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.

Four years ago at Sydney, she won golds in both the K-2 and K-4 sprints, giving her 10 medals overall. She is in both the K-4 and K-2 events in Greece, with her K-2 heat slated for Tuesday.

The Germans are among the strongest teams in flatwater canoe and kayak. Five of their six boats that raced Monday qualified for Friday's finals, with only their K-1 1,000-meter boat forced into a semifinal.

Andreas Dittmer won his C-1 1,000-meter race. The Germans were third in both the K-2 and K-4 1,000 races, advancing directly to the finals. The C-2 canoe pair of Christian Gille and Tomasz Wylenzek won their 1,000-meter heat.

None of the four U.S. boats racing on the first day of heats finished high enough to qualify for a final. All will have to find more speed in Wednesday's semifinals to keep their medal hopes alive.

The United States has won no Olympic medals in flatwater canoe or kayak since Greg Barton's bronze in the K-1 1,000 meters in 1992.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press