Europeans set to dominate in Athens
Posted: Monday August 2, 2004 9:20PM; Updated: Monday August 2, 2004 9:20PM
LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) -- European nations have dominated canoeing since it entered the Olympic programme in 1936 and it would be a major surprise if Hungary and Germany did not continue the trend in Athens.
Nineteen countries won medals at the last major event, the 2003 world championships, and only three of them were from outside Europe.
"In canoe slalom in Sydney (2000 Olympics) all the medals were won by European nations," British performance director John Anderson told Reuters. "There are some emerging nations but Europe is the powerhouse."
The German campaign will be spearheaded by seven-times Olympic champion Birgit Fischer who is aiming to win a record eighth gold medal at the age of 42.
The mother-of-two had retired from competitive sport after winning two golds at the Sydney Olympics but in October she announced her comeback.
"There was a voice going on in my head saying 'if all you're thinking about is whether you could still manage to be stronger than the others, then you'd better get back in that boat'," Fischer said.
The winner of 27 world titles, Fischer made a strong start to her campaign with two wins at the German Olympic trials last month and two medals at the European Championships in May.
Fischer's bid, if successful, will be the highlight of what should be an excellent regatta.
The International Canoeing Federation president Ulrich Feldhoff has described the facilities at both the flatwater and slalom centres as "of the highest Olympic standard" while Anderson hails them as the best in the world.
"The canoeing facilities in Athens are absolutely fantastic," Anderson said. "The slalom course is the best artificial course in the world. There is nothing better, it is state-of-the-art."
Hungary topped the medals table in 2003 with nine golds and their Olympic campaign will be led by Katalin Kovacs who finished 2003 as world champion and World Cup winner in the K1 500 event.
Germany's Andreas Dittmer has also confirmed his place as a firm favourite in the C1 500 and 1000 events with two commanding wins at the 2003 worlds.
In the slalom event, the European nations will again expect to dominate on a highly technical, man-made course.
One of the main battles to watch will be the men's C1 event between Slovakian Michal Martikan, one of the great canoe slalom specialists, and France's Olympic champion Tony Estanguet, who had to beat his elder brother to secure the French Olympic slot.
However, despite the excellent facilities and the abundance of talent expected in Athens, the Games could yet be dogged by strong winds which are expected in August in Athens.
Organisers have produced a variety of proposals for coping with the conditions such as bringing racing forward to 0600 GMT and cutting the intervals between races.
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