SCHINIAS, Greece -- With a last desperate stroke that rocked
his boat so hard he fell into the water, Frenchman Babak Amir
Tahmasseb edged U.S. kayaker Rami Zur at the finish line Thursday
and ended the American team's best hope for a medal.
Zur's fourth-place finish in his 500-meter single kayak race --
he needed a top three to advance -- was the most dramatic and most
frustrating moment for the American team, which failed to get a
boat in the finals.
Zur was second at 250 meters before being passed by German Lutz
Altepost and Amir Tahmasseb and the finish.
"He tried the same thing at the last World Cup I did in Belgium
and it didn't work ... but it worked this time so hats off to
him," Zur said.
Zur, a former Israeli Olympian with duel citizenship, had one
last chance to advance in the 500-meter pairs kayak (K-2), but he
and partner Bartosz Wolski couldn't find the speed to stay with the
top group. They finished more than a second behind third-place
Italy, the final qualifier of that race.
"There's no point overanalyzing it and getting depressed," Zur
said. "I'm very disappointed, but I've got to look forward and
that's what I'm trying to do ... Beijing is now my target."
The medal races on Friday and Saturday will be dominated by the
traditional powerhouses in flatwater canoe and kayak racing --
eastern European countries that were once part of the communist
Germany has been the most dominant team, benefiting from the
strong program in what was East Germany _ the system that produced
seven-time gold medalist Birgit Fischer, who'll race in both the
women's K-2 500 and K-4 500 finals.
Ten of 12 German entries finished high enough in their
preliminary heats to get byes to the finals. The two that didn't
both had successful semifinals Thursday, with Altepost's second in
the K-1 500 and Katrin Wagner's victory in her K-1 500 race.
Martin Doktor, the Czech Republic's double gold medalist in
1996, won his 500-meter single canoe semifinal, meaning he'll race
in both the 500 and 1,000 C-1 finals. In each race he'll be up
against Germany's Andreas Dittmer, defending world champion in both
events and defending gold medalist at 1,000 meters.
Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Belarus each will have multiple
entries in the finals, as well as Cuba, whose training programs got
assistance from eastern Europe in the early 1980s.
Canada has been strongest among teams with no ties to the former
communist bloc. Adam van Koeverden won his K-1 500 semifinal, while
fellow Canadian Richard Dalton was third in his C-1 500 semi, good
enough to advance. They'll join Caroline Brunet, whose preliminary
results in the K-1 500 and K-2 500 -- with partner Mylanie Barre --
were good enough to put her in both finals.
"The good performance of the whole Canadian team is not a
surprise for us," Dalton said. "We have a good coach, we train
hard and you will see the results soon."
As for the U.S. team, Carrie Johnson's day was much like Zur's.
After Poland's Aneta Pastuszka was disqualified at a post-race
weigh-in because her boat was too light, Johnson ended up fourth in
her semifinal, only .3 seconds behind Britain's Lucy Hardin, the
final qualifier. Sydney gold medalist Josefa Idem of Italy won that
race, followed by Larissa Peisakhovitch of Israel.
Johnson and partner Lauren Spalding _ both Hawaii natives with a
background in paddling outrigger boats in the Pacific Ocean _ were
seventh in their K-2 race, about 1.5 seconds behind Belarus, the
last qualifier. The Bulgarian entry won that semifinal, followed by