31 Countries Qualify For Summer Games
OCOEE, Tenn. (AP) _ Slovakian canoeist Michal Martikan, 16, paddled past the reigning world champion Sunday to become the youngest athlete ever to win a World Cup race.
``I like these types of courses,″ Martikan said of the Ocoee River, site of the Olympic whitewater slalom event July 27-29. ``I like the hard water and big waves.″
U.S. canoeist David Hearn, the reigning world champion and 20 years Martikan’s senior, said age was a factor for the older guys.
``He’s one of the guys to watch,″ said Hearn, who finished fourth. ``We’re looking over our shoulders.″
After two days of rain, Olympic contenders competed under cloudy but dry skies at the UPS Whitewater World Cup I on the Ocoee River in southeast Tennessee.
More than 270 kayakers and canoeists got a last chance to qualify their countries for the Summer Games during competitions Friday and Saturday. A total of 31 countries will be represented.
Those who finished in the top 15 of each of the four classes of whitewater racing Friday and Saturday were allowed to compete in Sunday’s World Cup race. The race was the first of five international races to select World Champions and the series is second only to the Olympics in importance.
American Scott Shipley powered the course with strength and finesse to finish two runs without any penalties and a best time of two minutes and 28.70 seconds, the fastest time in all four divisions on Sunday.
Shipley’s parents, Dick and Sue Shipley of Poulsbo, Wash., had not seen their son compete since the 1992 Olympics when he finished 27th. He has since picked won a World Cup race. It was the first time they had seen him win a World Cup race.
``Scott worked really hard for this,″ said Dick Shipley, who was a member of the 1965 U.S. whitewater team. ``We’re really proud.″
``It’s special that it happened here,″ said his mother, an elementary school principal. ``We hope it’s a sign of things to come.″
Shipley is considered the favorite for an Olympic gold medal in kayaking. He moved to nearby Bryson, N.C., a year ago so he could train on the Ocoee. He said he feels he has learned the course well enough where he can work it to his advantage.
``This course fits my style. I do better on the open, long courses than the smaller, tighter ones like they have in Europe,″ he said.
Whitewater slalom has been included in the Olympics only twice before _ Munich in 1972 and Barcelona in 1992. Both were on man-made courses. The Ocoee, located in the Cherokee National Forest about 60 miles northeast of Chattanooga, is the first natural Olympic course.
In other divisions, Stepanka Hilgertova of the Czech Republic won the women’s kayak in two minutes, 55.10 seconds, followed by Germany’s Lisa Micheler-Jones, the 1992 gold medalist, with two minutes, 55.61 seconds, and Kordula Striepecke, also of Germany, with two minutes, 59.69 seconds.
Behind Martikan in men’s canoe were two Frenchmen, Patrice Estanguet with two minutes, 45.87 seconds and Emmanuel Brugvin, two minutes, 46.02 seconds.
France took the top two spots in men’s double canoe. Frank Adisson and Wilfrid Forques were first with two minutes, 51.34 seconds, Emmanuel Del Ray and Thierry Saidi were close behind with two minutes, 52.72 seconds. Pavel and Petr Sterci, brothers from the Czech Republic, took third with two minutes, 55.65 seconds.
Germany’s Thomas Becker, Jochen Lettmann and Oliver Fix rounded out the men’s kayak behind Shipley. Becker finished with a close two minutes, 29.18 seconds while Lettmann and Fix were two minutes, 34.41 seconds and two minutes 34.65 seconds respectively.