Australia wins unexpected gold in canoe sprint

WINDSOR, England: Australia's resurgence at the London Olympics was given momentum in the most unlikely of fashions Thursday.

The country's canoe sprint squad has hardly been a guaranteed source of gold medals at summer games down the years - Australia had only won two in the sport's 76-year Olympic history.

That turned into three on the second day of finals at a sun-kissed Dorney Lake, however, when a group of four surf lifesavers - Tate Smith, Dave Smith, Murray Stewart and Jacob Clear - stunned the established kayaking powers with a wire-to-wire win in the men's 1,000-meter K-4.

It was Australia's first team gold in canoe sprint - and took its overall tally at the London Games to six after wins by cyclist Anna Meares, 100-meter hurdler Sally Pearson and sailors Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen over the past three days.

"We've struggled a little this Olympics," Tate Smith said. "We've been close but it's the Olympic Games and it's so hard to win a medal.

"So to get this gold means everything to us."

The day's other victories came from German and Hungarian boats, leaving both nations with three golds at the top of the regatta's medals table.

A day after finishing second in Germany's previously all-conquering K-4 500 boat, Franziska Weber and Tina Dietze bounced back to win the K-2 final over the same distance ahead of Hungary. The Germans' other victory came through Peter Kretschmer and Kurt Kuschela in the 1,000-meter C-2.

Danuta Kozak won her second gold of the regatta for Hungary, following up the K-4 win with success in the 500-meter K-1. That denied Josefa Idem, a 47-year-old Italian competing in her record eighth summer games, a glorious farewell at her final Olympics. Idem finished fifth.

There was no mistaking the biggest upset on a sweltering day in Windsor, though.

In Beijing in 2008, Dave Smith wept uncontrollably after Australia's much-hyped K-4 team failed to qualify from the repechage race. It was symptomatic of Australia's struggles in canoe team events - their only golds had come in the singles through Ken Wallace (500 meters) that same regatta and Clint Robinson (1,000 meters) in Barcelona in 1992.

Four years on, Smith was a picture of joy atop the podium at Dorney Lake, throwing his arms up with his crew mates before waving ecstatically to the crowd.

The Australians, world silver medalists in 2011, had gone out hard and led the whole race, staving off the late challenge of a Hungarian boat in the lane alongside them containing triple Olympic gold-medalist Zoltan Kammerer. Denmark, the European champion, and Germany, medalists in event in every Olympics since 1988, didn't make the top three.

"It was a red-hot field, the best athletes were out there," Clear said. "It's just fantastic to top out on top. We stuck to the race plan and it went perfectly."

After eight barren days of rowing and now six days of canoeing, "Advance Australia Fair" finally reverberated out at Dorney Lake.

"It was amazing to hear the anthem on the start line," Australia's Naomi Flood shouted to passers-by as she completed her warm-down after her B final in the K-2 with Lyndsie Fogarty later Thursday.

Flood was lured from surf lifesaving, too. As was Wallace. The occupation is proving a successful breeding ground for Australia's Olympic kayakers.

On a day when national flags hung limply from the grandstands and the sun shone through a light cloud cover, Germany won the first and last races to climb above Hungary in the medals table.

The Germans have six medals from eight finals - and the most satisfying will likely be the gold won by Weber and Dietze.

They were downcast after the 16-year Olympic dominance of Germany's K-4 500 crew was ended by the Hungarians on Wednesday.

Their heads bowed, they vowed after the race to take immediate revenge and they stuck to their word, denying Hungary a third straight Olympic title in the K-2.

The Germans led from start to finish to win by a half-length over Katalin Kovacs and Natasa Douchev-Janics, who were both looking to win their fourth Olympic golds.

"There has always been a rivalry between Hungary and Germany so this feels better than good, better than awesome," Weber said. "There are more nations coming but the rivalry between Hungary and Germany will continue."

Weber and Dietze reclaimed the title last won for Germany by two of their greatest Olympians - Birgit Fischer and Katrin Wagner-Augustin - in 2000.

Bridgitte Hartley became the first South African female to win a canoe sprint medal when she finished third in the K-1 500, less than three-tenths of a second behind runner-up Inna Osypenko-Radomska, the defending champion from Belarus.

Osypenko-Radomska led for 400 meters before Kozak, who won gold in the K-4 500 on Wednesday, reeled her in.

The focus of the remaining two days of the regatta now switches entirely to a new event on the Olympic canoe sprint schedule - the 200-meter sprint. The heats and semifinals are on Friday and the finals on Saturday.


AP Sports Writer





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