Canoe/Kayak

Grimm takes first gold medal in kayak

Aug. 12, 2008, 4:16 p.m. (ET)

BEIXIAOYING TOWN, China (AP) Togo's Benjamin Boukpeti made Olympic history on Tuesday with a bronze medal in the single kayak.

Not only was he the first black man ever to medal in a slalom event, according to the International Canoe Federation, he is the first athlete ever to win a medal for Togo in any Summer Games.

Alexander Grimm of Germany, ranked No. 3 in the world, won the gold medal in a combined time of 171.70 using a pair of clean, fast runs. Fabien Lefevre of France won the silver in 173.30

"I really don't know yet what this quite represents," Boukpeti said though a translator.

Boukpeti kissed his fists before he thrust them into the air on the medal stand and hopped up and down several times before the medal was placed around his neck, his parents watching nearby.

"I tried to give people some entertainment," he said. "I tried to make them vibrate a little."

Boukpeti was the last competitor to negotiate his one-man kayak through the strategically placed gates, and the crowd was behind him from the start. His ride was clean and his combined time was 173.45 seconds.

He hugged and kissed his French mother and Togolese father after he crossed the finish line and said, "They showed me it was possible."

Boukpeti speaks French and lives in Toulouse, France. He was born in France and only visited Togo, in West Africa, once as a young boy.

He snapped his paddle in the foamy water when he slammed it in exultation, forcing him to splash his hands around to get to his waiting fans.

This celebration was for Togo.

Boukpeti developed through a program in France, but shoulder injuries ended his career there. The 27-year-old represented Togo when he competed in the 2004 Athens Games.

Grimm ducked and weaved around the gates. Every flawless run - without even the tip of the paddle touching the gate - earned a "wonderful!" or two giant thumbs up on the scoreboard.

"I've got a massive party ahead of me," he said.

Michal Martikan of Slovakia won the gold medal in single canoe slalom with a time of 176.65, his first since winning in Atlanta in 1996.

Martikan won silver in Sydney and Athens, finishing second both times behind France's Tony Estanguet, who finished a surprising ninth in his first run on the whitewater course in Beijing and did not qualify for the finals.

David Florence of Britain won silver in 178.61 and Robin Bell of Australia earned bronze in 180.59.

American Benn Fraker advanced to the final and finished sixth.

Martikan was only 17 when he won in Atlanta. Top ranked by the ICF, his combined time of 176.65 seconds was nearly two seconds better than Florence's time.

Estanguet, the French flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, couldn't believe he didn't win.

"It was a very bad race for me," he said. "It's very difficult for me to explain why I was out."

Estanguet was an outspoken critic of the Chinese government and said earlier this year: "The situation in China is certainly intolerable." He also said it was "unbearable for us sports people."

Has he changed his mind?

"No, but these games can be a great games," he said. "China has been very motivated to welcome these Olympic Games."

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