Australian kayaker Wallace advances to final

Aug. 20, 2008, 5:59 a.m. (ET)

BEIXIAOYING TOWN, China (AP) Ken Wallace looked to his left and saw an Olympic silver medalist. On his right in a kayak single semifinal, was an Olympic gold medalist.

If Wallace was intimidated by the loaded field Wednesday in the semifinals of the 1,000-meter K-1 race, the Australian sure didn't show it on the still flatwater course.

Wallace paddled his way to the finish line first, winning a semifinal race in 3 minutes, 33.255 seconds and advancing to Friday's final.

"It wasn't a slouch semi, that's for sure," Wallace said.

The first-time Olympian will compete against some familiar faces in the final, though.

The top three finishers in each semifinal clinched a berth in the final, so New Zealand's Ben Fouhy and Sweeden's Markus Oscarsson also moved on. Fouhy was a 1,000 K-1 sliver medalist four years ago in the Athens Games and Oscarsson won gold there in a doubles race.

"It's really quite frightening," Fouhy said. "There's a lot more depth and it's puts a lot more pressure on you from the get go."

The other semifinal race saw Germany's Max Hoff, Croatia's Stjepan Janic and Hungary's Zoltan Benko advance to the final, powering their paddles like windmills as they crossed the finish line. Hoff had the top time of 3:32.847.

They'll join previous qualifiers Tim Brabants (Britain), Adam van Koeverden (Canada) and defending Olympic champion Eirik Veras Larsen (Norway) in a stacked final.

"Everyone's about the same," Wallace said.

More than the competition, Wallace competes against the legacy of kayaker Clint Robinson - a three-time Olympic medalist. Robinson was the first Australian to win an Olympic gold medal in kayaking, winning the 1,000 K-1 in 1992. He added bronze four years later in Atlanta and silver in the Athens Games in the 500 K-2.

"He's a guy I've looked up to," Wallace said. "I still respect the guy, I still look up to him. If I can do what he did, I'll be extremely satisfied. I'll be excited if I can even come close to what he's done."

Wallace topped his hero back home in the K-1 just to get the chance to kayak at the Beijing Games. Now, he's looking for his big international breakthrough at the Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Park.

Robinson saw his bid for a medal end in the 1,000-meter K-4 when the Australians were the only team that failed to qualify for the final. Russia, China and Canada all advanced.

Robinson said he wasn't sure what went wrong.

"We just need to talk about it as a group," he said.

There's still a shot for his fourth medal in five games in the 500 meter K-2.

China added three boats to the finals, with the 1,000-meter canoe double team, the 1,000 K-2 and the 1,000 K-4 all qualifying on Wednesday.

Shen Jie and Huang Zhipeng were third in the K-2; Chen Zhongyun and Zhang Zhiwu were third in the C-2; and Li Zhen, Liu Haitao, Zhou Peng and Lin Miao were second in the K-4.

"We didn't perform to our full strengths in this race, but being in the final is still the best result" said Li Zhen.

Top American kayaker Rami Zur failed to qualify in the 1,000 K-1 with a seventh-place finish that was nearly 13 seconds behind Wallace.