With the Flatwater Final about to begin, Australian Canoeing takes you back four years to Sydney and the celebrations and competition in our own back yard...
The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games began with a beat of the constant pulse of energy that has always marked the host city.
As the Opening Ceremony got under way, great throngs of Australian stockhorses pounded into the stadium with their riders, their hooves creating an insistent rhythm.  This was nature’s power in action, and it awed and enchanted the onlookers with its stirring spectacle.
Day 12 (September 26) of competition saw the Sprint events get under way at the Sydney International Regatta Centre.
The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was a showcase for a postmodern, technologically sophisticated world at the end of the twentieth century.  The sobriquet of the ‘Games of the new Millennium’, location in the brash, savvy, cosmopolitan city of Sydney and instant accessibility across all continents via television, the Internet and even mobile phone attests to this.
Yet, despite these technological advancements and perfect planning by Games organisers, ultimately it was the effects of nature that had the greatest impact on the Canoe/ Kayak sprint competition.
Up until the last two days of competition the weather had been benign and the water surface still, providing an ideal racing environment.  Then, on September 30, the finals were delayed because of fog.  But worse was to come.
On 1 October, the final day of competition, ferocious winds of 60 kph buffeted the course, churning the waters into whirlpool-like conditions and causing a delay of six hours.
Officials considered postponing the remaining events until the following day, after the Closing Ceremony, or even abandoning them completely.  Long after most spectators had left the officials finally decided to proceed.
When the races resumed the wind had still not abated, however, forcing the competitors to proceed in challenging conditions.  It was also tough on the officials.  Some had to be plucked from the water.  Despite it all, the events were completed by late afternoon
Men’s C1 500 m
Hungary’s Gyorgy Kolonics was almost a second clear of the Russian Federation’s Maxim Opalev to win the gold medal in the C1 500.  The bronze medal was won by Andreas Dittmer of Germany.
Mens C1 1000 m
Another great race was the men’s C1 1000 m final. Opalev from the Russian Federation led at 250 m, 500 m and 750 m, but Germany’s Andreas Dittmer pushed inexorably to the front, leaving Opalev in sixth place.
It was Dittmer with gold, Cuba’s Ledys Frank Balceiro with silver, 1.692 seconds behind, and the bronze went to Canada’s Steve Giles.
Dittmer said, 'It was wonderful, I looked left and right and saw that I was in the clear.  It was the perfect race.  I started out slow in the beginning, I couldn’t keep up with the four of the leaders in the beginning so I decided to hold back and then I saw the others fading toward the end and I knew I could win.  After winning the C2 in Atlanta now I’ve won the C1 here. I’m very, very happy.'
Men’s C2 500 m
Hungary’s Ferenc Novak and Imre Pulai won the gold, narrowly defeating Poland’s Pawel Baraszkiewicz and Daniel Jedraszko.  Romania’s Florin Popescu and Mitica Pricop won the bronze.
Men’s C2 1000 m
The Romanian pair of Florin Popescu and Mitica Pricop won the gold in the C2 1000 m, defeating Leobaldo Pereira and Ibrahin Rojas of Cuba.  Germany and the Russian Federation battled for the bronze, with the German pair of Lars Kober and Stefan Utess too strong in the final stages.
Men’s K1 500 m
The last day of racing got off to a terrible start, courtesy of Sydney’s unseasonable weather.  The wind and water lashed at competitors’ boats, making it almost impossible to even get to the start line.
The first race of the day was the men’s K1 500 m.  Bulgaria’s Petar Merkov was beaten by his nemesis, Norway’s Knut Holmann, by a margin of 0.546 seconds.  Both men displayed great courage in a titanic finish as the weather showed no signs of slackening.  The bronze medal was won by Israel’s Michael Kolganov.
Men’s K1 1000 m
There were many highlights at this regatta, but one of the best was the first race on Saturday 30 September - the men’s K1 1000 m final.  Argentina’s Andres Correa got off to a fast start, but was slowly overhauled by Knut Holmann of Norway, who gradually drew away, while the Argentinean slipped to fifth.
Holmann also edged out Bulgaria’s Petar Merkov, by 1.38 seconds.  After the race Holmann said, 'It was my plan to go out fast and find my rhythm so I could just float along until I reached the 500 m mark.  It worked.'
The overjoyed bronze medallist, Tim Brabants of Great Britain, had more than one reason to celebrate.  Not only had he taken the bronze, he had won Great Britain’s first sprint medal.
Men’s K2 500 m
As the men’s K2 500 m rolled around, competitors had to compete against a 40 kph headwind and waves.  The paddlers were called to the start three times before the race could begin.
In a dramatic race, where competitors fought just as fiercely with one another as they did with the elements, the gold medal went to Hungarians Zoltan Kammerer and Botond Storcz, in a time of 1:47.055, 16 seconds slower than their heat time.
The Australians, Andrew Trim and Daniel Collins, surged to the front near the finish, but Hungary came back to snatch the victory, 0.84 seconds in front.  Germany’s Ronald Rauhe and Tim Wieskoetter got the bronze.
Trim later said, 'It really wasn’t a kayak race.  That’s about as far removed from a kayak race as we can get.  It was nothing like I imagined the Olympic final to be.  It was bloody horrible.'
His partner, Daniel Collins, gave his view, 'In 12 years of international competition I’ve only had one worse race and I’ve never had conditions like they were today.  But it was the same for everyone we play an outdoor sport, you have to put up with it.'
Men’s K2 1000 m
Certainly the gold medal for enthusiasm belonged to Italy’s Antonio Rossi and Beniamino Bonomi after this race.  The Italian pair paddled a perfect race and led all the way, with Markus Oscarsson and Henrik Nilsson of Sweden second and Hungary a close third with Krisztian Bartfai and Krisztian Vereb.  So ecstatic was Bonomi as the race finished that he stood up to salute the Italian supporters and fell overboard.
Men’s K4 1000 m
The action was in lanes six, seven and eight in the final of the men’s K4 1000 m.  In a tight finish the Hungarian team from lane six narrowly defeated the German foursome.  The Polish team just held off the Slovakian team for the bronze.
Women’s K1 500 m
Not to be daunted by the poor weather conditions on the final day, the women’s K1 500 m finalists lined up with Yugoslavia, South Africa, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Hungary, Poland, Australia and Austria.
Host country Australia had performed below expectations at these championships, and placed great hope in German-born, Gold Coast based Katrin Borchert.
Already she had captured a bronze medal for her adopted country in the K2 500 m race in Atlanta.  She repeated her Atlanta placing, finishing 1.29 seconds behind the gold medallist, Italy’s Josefa Idem Guerrini.  The silver medallist was Canada’s Caroline Brunet.
Women’s K2 500 m
The legendary Birgit Fischer and her partner Katrin Wagner won another gold medal for Germany in the K2 500 m.  They clearly defeated Hungary’s Katalin Kovacs and Szilvia Szabo, who only just held on to the silver from Poland’s Aneta Pastuszka and Beata Sokolowska.
Women’s K4 500 m
The women’s K4 500 m final followed, an extremely tight race with only 0.414 seconds separating the gold and silver medallists.  Germany (Birgit Fischer, Anett Schuck, Manuela Mucke, Katrin Wagner) won the gold, the silver going to Hungary and the bronze to Romania.
With her victory, Germany’s Birgit Fischer, nicknamed ‘Supermum’ by the press, 38 years of age and the mother of two, became one of the greatest Olympians of all time.  She has won six gold medals and three silver medals at five Games, beginning in Moscow in 1980 as an 18-year-old.
She might have achieved even more, but was denied an opportunity to compete in Los Angeles in 1984 because of her country’s boycott.  But she wasn’t finished yet she took her seventh gold medal the following day in the K2 500 m.
All in all, the stars in the sprints were Norway’s Knut Holmann and Germany’s Birgit Fischer, two amazing athletes, each finishing with two gold medals.  The leading nations in sprints were Hungary and Germany, each finishing with seven medals.
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