U.S. boats struggle in early heats

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

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

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