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Doktor sets up showdown; U.S. boats struggle

8/25/2004

SCHINIAS, Greece -- Former Olympic champion Martin Doktor
has a chance to snatch one back.

The Czech won his semifinal heat Wednesday in 1,000-meter
flatwater canoe (C-1), setting up a showdown with the man who beat
him for the gold medal in Sydney.

He'll race a field that includes Germany's Andreas Dittmer, the
three-time defending world champion who has dominated over the last
four years.

The Americans weren't as fortunate, getting eliminated from the
men's single kayak (K-1) 1,000-meter category, the K-2 1,000, the
C-2 1,000 and women's K-4 500 meters.

No U.S. boat has made the finals yet, but the team still has
boats scheduled for semifinal races Thursday.

"We need more years of experience,'' U.S. coach Jerzy
Dzaidkowiec said. "We can see the boats developing well, but
unfortunately we didn't make it today. Our strongest boats will be
performing tomorrow.''

The Doktor-Dittmer rematch -- perhaps grudge match is a better
description -- gives the C-1 some sizzle.

The 30-year-old Doktor became a star in single canoe racing
after winning golds in both the 500- and 1,000-meter events at
Atlanta in 1996. Dittmer won a gold in canoe pairs in those games
and didn't race in the C-1.

Then Dittmer changed his focus, and everything else changed,
too.

Dittmer has won the gold and world titles, leaving Doktor in his
wake. Their rivalry has turned nasty at times, with Doktor's father
once insinuating that Dittmer must have been on
performance-enhancing drugs in order to beat his son. The German
team countered by threatening to sue for defamation.

The rivalry has played out again this week, with Dittmer
maintaining his advantage.

The defending champion won his preliminary heat Monday and
received a bye to the final. Doktor was upset in his preliminary
heat, losing to Russian Konstantin Fomichev by 0.33 seconds. That
forced him into Wednesday's semifinal round, where he had to finish
in the top three to advance to Friday's final.

He did so easily, but the extra racing could work against him.

Like Dittmer, Doktor also is in the C-1 500-meter race. Again,
he was forced into a semifinal because he finished second to
Spaniard David Cal in earlier heats. Dittmer won his 500-meter heat
and wasn't even in Schinias for the semifinal round, instead
watching his sister Anja compete in the triathlon.

In the other C-1 1,000 semifinal, Canadian Stephen Giles
triumphed, followed by Cuban Karel Aguilar Chacon. Canoe is one of
Cuba's better Olympic sports, dating back to collaboration in the
early 1980s with former communist countries in eastern Europe, such
as Bulgaria and East Germany, which traditionally had strong programs.

Giles win was just one of several Canadian highlights. Adam van
Koeverden won his K-1 1,000-meter semifinal, and the men's K-4
1,000 and women's K-4 500 squads advanced with third-place
finishes.

The American women's K-4 boat needed a top three finish and
missed it by only two-tenths of a second, edged at the line by
Canada.

Kathy Colin, a second-time Olympian and former Hawaii state
champion in kayak and outrigger canoe, had expressed near certainty
that her K-4 boat would make the finals.

"I dont know what went wrong. We gave it all we could, and I
guess it just wasnt our day,'' Colin said.

In the K-2 1,000, Jeffrey Smoke and Andrew Bussey finished
seventh in their semifinal. Jordan Malloch and Nathan Johnson
finished eighth in their C-2 1,000 race, while Benji Lewis finished
ninth in his K-1 1,000 semifinal.

"We have a very young crew, and we have to keep building so
they will have experience for the 2008 Olympics,'' Dzaidkowiec
said.

The Greeks, not strong in canoe-kayak, nearly ended up in a
final as C-1 1,000 racer Andreas Kiligkaridis had a top three spot
for most of his semifinal. He was passed in the final strokes by
Slovakia's Marian Ostrcil, bringing a hush over what had been an
excited home crowd.