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Wind Delays Canoe-Kayak Finals

October 1, 2000

PENRITH, Australia (AP) _ Finish-line markers swayed, whitecaps rippled and a motorboat almost went under.

On a blustery day, time was running out on Olympic canoe and kayak.

The wind that had stayed away from the Sydney International Regatta Center the first two weeks of the Olympics arrived on the last day and made up for lost time, delaying the finals by six hours _ four more than the event was supposed to last.

Two attempts to start were blown away by gusts that approached 50 mph. The second time, a worker’s boat took on so much water it nearly sank.

As cold, hungry paddlers waited nervously _ some fearing they were going to miss flights, others fretting about missing the closing ceremonies _ impatient fans stripped their clothes and dove into the choppy waters, wind be damned.

Meanwhile, International Canoe Federation officials discussed their options with the International Olympic Committee and Sydney Olympic organizers. They decided to try again at 3 p.m. (midnight Saturday EDT) and planned to keep trying every hour until 6 p.m. (3 a.m. Sunday EDT).

The race agenda was cut to 75 minutes from two hours, making the medals ceremonies one big show at the end. And with the sun setting at 7 p.m., there also was talk of bringing in lights to try racing after dark.

If none of that works, the options include trying again Monday or canceling the six events yet to be decided. Six finals were held Saturday.

The IOC begrudgingly told the ICF it can compete Monday morning (Sunday EDT), but Sydney Olympic organizers have the last word. It may be difficult to try organizing officials, workers and volunteers on what’s been declared a public holiday _ Labor Day, in fact.

But even if the organizers agree to extend the Olympics, the ICF could pull the plug if countries decide they can’t wait around, thus compromising the competition. The Russians were planning to fly home Sunday night and other teams had flights early Monday. Some paddlers had personal vacation plans.

``Everything is very, very uncertain,″ said ICF spokesman Raymond Kamber. ``The IOC said if ever we should do it, it should be today. They said it’s possible to do it tomorrow, but they don’t like it.″

The long delays forced paddlers to warm up in vein several times. There also were problems with food and drinks running out. Fans became so bored of waiting that they created excitement for themselves by swimming across the lanes. Races among 100 or so spectators drew loud cheers.

``The K-1 and C-1 have been here 6 1/2 hours with no food, nothing,″ said German coach Josef Capousek. ``Three times they warmed up and cooled down.″

Capousek said he’d never seen anything like this in his 20 years of coaching.

``At worlds, sometimes we wait a half-hour, an hour, for fog or a storm,″ he said. ``Now we’re talking about almost all day.″

Many were second-guessing the original decision to delay the races, because conditions got worse as the day went on. Capousek said it was the right choice to hope things would improve.

Australia’s weather service reported winds of 35 mph around the original start, prompting a wind warning until 6 p.m. Gusts spiked to 46 mph just before the second try.

That bid was delayed partially because the winds had knocked out the start and finish buoys and the electric eyes attached to them. A worker in the first boat that tried fixing it almost went under, forcing another man in a larger boat to take over.

The men’s solo kayak finalists already had taken their lanes when a few realized it was futile and headed for shore. They pulled their boats to a grassy area, flipped the water-logged craft and sat down to wait it out.

About 10 minutes later, they got back in the water and began paddling to see what they were up against. Then officials told them to keep paddling all the way to the boathouse because another delay had been called.

They had to go the length of the course and then some to get back. When the first boat crept past the finish, fans cheered.

Paddlers often race in inclement weather, but these winds were considered too severe _ especially since races would be held going into the gusts.

High winds in the western Sydney suburb of Penrith were a concern coming into the games. Several pre-Olympic practices at the Sydney International Regatta Center were scrubbed and alternate plans were made to hold time trials instead of races for rowing.

But things went fine for the eight days of rowing and there were few problems during the first five days of canoe-kayak.

The six remaining events are the men’s K-1, K-2, C-1 and C-2, and the women’s K-1 and K-2, all at 500 meters.

The only U.S. entry is in the K-2, with Angel Perez of Miami and Peter Newton of Seattle seeking the first sprint kayaking medal for Americans since 1992.

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