Fischer's gold run spans 24 years

Updated: August 27, 2004, 6:39 AM ET
Associated Press

SCHINIAS, Greece -- Birgit Fischer is still winning gold medals at age 42.

Germany's kayaking legend got her eighth gold on Friday, becoming the first woman to win Olympic medals 24 years apart.

"You never know if it's going to be the last medal you win, so in that sense, it has a higher meaning," Fischer said.

Her four-person kayak trailed by three-tenths of a second halfway through the 500-meter flatwater final, but Fischer set a torrid pace up front and the Germans won by two-tenths of a second over Hungary, with Ukraine taking bronze.

Fischer looked left after crossing the line and knew immediately her squad had won. She raised her paddle above her head with both hands, then pumped her right fist several times. Her much younger teammates leaned back, closed their eyes and gasped with exhaustion.

Fischer won her first gold at 18 in Moscow, becoming the youngest women ever to win an Olympic kayaking event. She now has 11 total medals and will be a strong contender for yet another on Saturday, when she races in the pairs kayak final.

When asked if she thought the medal was her last, she became coy.

"I have no idea," she said. "Who knows?"

This much is certain: Fischer still has what it takes to win them. At the 2003 world championships, before Fischer made her comeback, the Germans were 5th with a K-4 entry paced by Maike Nollen, who moved back to the second seat this year.

"Birgit gives me a lot of confidence to concentrate on my job. I'm calmer," Nollen said. "The last time, when I had to ride in the front, I was under higher pressure, and now I just have to follow her."

The Hungarians won last year's world championship and seemed stunned that Fischer could make such a difference.

"We did the best we could, but the Germans were too fast," Hungary's Katalin Kovacs said. "I am not pleased."

Olympic gold was more of a novelty for the men who raced on the first day of canoe and kayak finals.

Spain's David Cal surged ahead of the most dominant man in his sport to take gold -- his first Olympic medal -- in the 1,000-meter single canoe event.

Germany's Andreas Dittmer, the defending gold medalist and three-time defending world champion, led just out of the start, but Cal passed the 32-year-old and pulled out to nearly a one-second lead at the halfway mark.

Dittmer, who won silver, said he let Cal get too big of an early lead and realized going into the last 250 meters that the 21-year-old Spaniard was not about to fade.

"And I realized I'm not as good as I supposed I'd be," Dittmer said.

Cal, subdued in triumph, said his front-running pace took everything out of him.

"Now I only want to rest," he said.

The race was expected to be a showdown between Dittmer and 1996 gold medalist Martin Doktor of the Czech Republic. But Doktor, who lost his heat race and was forced to race in the semifinal round, finished one spot out of the medals. Attila Vajda of Hungary ended up in third.

In the single kayak 1,000-meter race, two-time world champion Eirik Veraas Larsen of Norway pushed ahead of his rivals to take gold as his first Olympic medal.

Ben Fouhy of New Zealand won the silver after charging from fifth place. Adam van Koeverden of Canada, who led the race at the halfway point, held on for bronze.

The Swedish kayak pair of Markus Oscarsson and Henrik Nilsson won their 1,000-meter event, improving on their silver in Sydney. Italians Anontio Rossi and Beniamino Bonomi, the defending Olympic champions, finished second, less than .05 seconds ahead of the Norwegian squad, whose third-place finish gave Larsen his second medal of the day.

The Germans took their second gold when the canoe pair of Christian Gille and Tomasz Wylenzek won their 1,000-meter final. They were 1.3 seconds behind Russia at 500 meters, but a strong second half gave them gold with more than a second to spare. Russia held off Hungary for second. Gille raced with a black arm band in honor of his late former racing partner Thomas Zereska, who died of leukemia this year.

"I just wanted to show the world how much this whole thing hurt," Gille said. "The first few weeks after Thomas died were very, very hard for me."

In the men's K-4 1,000, the Hungarians, backed by a flag-waving following that took up nearly a whole section of grandstands, crossed the line first to the loudest cheers of the day. They led the Germans by about four-tenths of a second at 500 meters and pulled away from there. The Germans remained second, with Slovakia taking bronze.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press