American Zur strong in heat

Updated: August 24, 2004, 8:04 AM ET
Associated Press

SCHINIAS, Greece -- Make it two heat victories for seven-time gold medalist Birgit Fischer, who at 42 is still making a case that she's the world's best in her sport.

Setting the pace from the front of her pairs kayak (K-2), Fischer and 22-year-old Carolin Leonhardt led their 500-meter race from beginning to end Tuesday, holding on against a charging Chinese boat.

The Germans' time of 1 minute, 39.59 seconds was bettered only by the Hungarian tandem of Katalin Kovacs and Natasa Janics, who won the other heat in 1:38.61. The top three in each heat received byes straight to Saturday's final.

Fischer, mother of a teenage son and daughter, said winning a medal is not that important to her but "it is important for Carolin, so I want us to win.''

Fischer also is the pacesetter for the Germans' K-4 entry, which was fastest in its event on Monday and will race in a final Friday.

The U.S. K-2 of Kathryn Colin and Lauren Spalding will race in Thursday's semifinal after finishing sixth in their heat, 6.6 seconds off Hungary's winning time.

No American boats have been eliminated yet, but none made it straight to the finals, either.

Closest was Rami Zur in the single kayak (K-1) 500-meter event. He finished second in a heat that sent only the winner went straight to the final. Alan van Coller of South Africa clipped Zur at the line by .26 seconds.

Zur said he had misjudged how long it would take him to get from the boat house to the starting line and had to paddle hard to make the race.

"That's why I'm pretty happy -- even though I was tired and not super fresh and focused -- to get second place,'' Zur said.

Zur has duel citizenship and competed for Israel in 2000, finishing 13th in the K-2 500 and 16th in the K-2 1,000. But this year he's been strong in the single, with two thirds and a first on the World Cup circuit.

"I'm in better shape now than I was in the last Olympics,'' Zur said.

Zur also raced with Bartosz Wolski in the K-2 500, finishing fourth, about 2.8 seconds behind heat winners Marek Twardowski and Adam Wysocki of Poland.

But the Germans have proven to be the strongest team.

Two-time canoe gold medalist Andreas Dittmer of Germany won his C-1 500 heat to go with his C-1 1,000 heat win a day earlier. That guarantees him two shots to win his third gold in three Olympics.

Germans Ronald Rauhe and Tim Wieskoetter, defending K-2 500 world champions and Sydney bronze medalists, won their heat in a time of 1:28.87, fastest of the day in their event.

And Germans Christian Gille and Tomasz Wylenzek won their C-2 500 heat. They beat the seventh-place U.S. tandem of Jordan Malloch and Nathan Johnson by eight seconds.

Canadian two-time silver medalist Caroline Brunet won her K-1 500 heat in 1:50.37, while her third-place finish in the K-2 means she'll race in two finals.

American K-1 racer Carrie Johnson finished fifth in her seven-kayak heat.

A steady tail wind of about 15 mph blew throughout the races, causing sets of small waves to roll from the starting line to the finish. It caused several short delays and in one instance Polish racer Aneta Pastuszka capsized in the starting area. That race was delayed until she could be picked up on a raft, given help dumping water out of her kayak, then placed back in the boat. She finished second behind Slovakian Marcela Erbanova by a mere .33 seconds in a heat from which only the winner got a semifinal bye.

Brunet said the wind "caused a lot of trouble,'' but made the races exciting.

The Chinese tandem of Guanlian Meng and Wenjun Yang, who never had a top-three result at a major international race until winning a World Cup race this year, won their C-2 500 heat.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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