Hungary pays tribute to late canoeing champion

Aug. 18, 2008, 7:41 a.m. (ET)

BEIXIAOYING TOWN, China (AP) Gyorgy Kozmann wore the black armband to remember his friend and canoeing partner. So did Attila Vajda.

All the Hungarian flatwater canoers and kayakers honored Gyorgy Kolonics, a canoeing gold medalist at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics who died last month after collapsing in his canoe while training for the 1,000-meter canoe double.

"I'm wearing a black band in memory of Gyorgy," Vajda said Monday.

Kolonics won 15 world championships between 1993-07, most teamed with Csaba Horvath. In May, Kolonics and Kozmann won a silver medal in the 500-meter doubles at the European Championships in Milan, Italy.

Kozmann and Tamas Kiss finished fourth in their 1,000-meter qualifying heat at Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Park. They'll need a top-three finish in Wednesday's semis to reach the final.

Kozmann did want to talk specifically about Kolonics. Kozmann told Hungarian reporters that he tried not to mourn for Kolonics on this day and wanted to focus on the first day of heats.

The black armband, though, was an anguished reminder of their former teammate.

Vajda went out and won his 1,000-meter heat in the canoe single (C-1) in 3 minutes, 55.319 seconds and advanced straight to the final, where he can add another Olympic medal to the bronze he won in Athens.

"It will be very hard, but I think I can beat them," he said. "I can get the gold medal."

Vajda already has his left eyebrow pierced and a stud in his upper right ear. The canoer is out for a less painful kind of adornment in gold around his neck.

The world champion has a pretty strong shot out on the flatwater.

"I'd like to think it can happen," Vajda said. "We've just been paddling and training here, so I've been waiting for it to start," he said. "The first heat is always easier, but I couldn't breathe. I was really tired."

Vajda can rest until Friday's final. So can all the other winners of 14 races in the first day of Olympic canoe/kayak flatwater competition. Second and third place finishers also reached the finals in all but the single kayak (K-1) and single canoe (C-1).

That meant Canadian Thomas Hall - a favorite to win the C-1 and a World Cup gold medal winner - did not advance straight to the final after he finished fourth in his 1,000-meter canoe single heat.

"It was definitely not good by my standards," Hall said. "It's good to feel that type of pressure, though. I think it was a good lesson."

In the 1,000-meter kayak single, Britain's Tim Brabants, Canada's Adam van Koeverden and Norway's Eirik Veraas Larsen all won heats to move on to the final.

Rami Zur was the only American to compete, and he finished sixth in his K-1 heat to move on to the semis. Zur is much better in the 500-meter race, where he'll also compete on Tuesday.

"If he can apply that tomorrow when the race is cut in half, he should easily advance to the semis and have a great going at the final," said U.S. coach Nathan Luce.

In the 1,000-meter canoe single, Vadim Menkov of Uzbekistan and David Cal of Spain joined Vajda in the final.

One notable surprise saw Germany win the 1,000-meter heat in the kayak four in 2:57.148, just nipping Hungary. Hungary won gold in the K-4 in both the Sydney Games and in Athens. Even with a number of changes made to the crew since 2004, they have delivered strong performances at the World Cup and world championship level. Akos Vereckei is the only member left from the 2004 crew.