China sends 2 more boats to final

Aug. 21, 2008, 7:07 a.m. (ET)

BEIXIAOYING TOWN, China (AP) With two more Chinese canoe/kayak boats in the finals, the hometown fans are preparing to belt out those anthem lyrics and fly their flags again at the Shunyi Rowing-Canoeing Park.

Zhong Hongyan won her 500-meter kayak single (K-1) semifinal in 1 minute, 53.163 seconds on Thursday. Li Qiang was third in the men's 500-meter canoe single (C-1) race in 1:52.887 to give them each a shot at a medal.

China already qualified three boats for the first day of finals on Friday, giving the country five chances at winning its second gold medal in the sport.

"There has been an obvious increase in the level of China's performances over recent years," Li said.

China's only gold medal on the flatwater was four years ago in the Athens Games in the men's 500-meter canoe double.

Zhong and Li would love to build on that total Saturday.

"The podium is the goal, but I consider myself successful as long as I can just row my best," Zhong said.

The adoring faithful have a shot at celebrating again at the usually serene park. Fans sang the national anthem, waved flags and were jubilant when the women's quadruple sculls crew won China's first ever gold in rowing on Sunday. There must be something in the water.

"It's hard to name a single reason for the improvement," Li said. "There are a lot of factors involved. The success will definitely continue."

The biggest upset was Germany's Andreas Dittmer failing in his bid to reach the 500-meter canoe single final. He was the gold medalist in this event four years ago in Athens and won four total Olympic medals in the Atlanta and Sydney Games. Dittmer was fourth in his semifinal.

"I don't feel 100 percent fit," he said. "I'm not sure if the problem is in my training."

This also marked the end of Australian Clint Robinson's Olympic career when he failed to qualify with Jacob Clear in the 500 K-2. The five-time Olympian did not reach the final a day earlier in the 1,000 K-4, ending his stellar Olympic career without one more shot at a medal on the final two days of competition.

"Maybe I'm getting old," Robinson said, smiling.

Robinson was still a teenager when he became 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.

So many Australian canoeists and kayakers in the Beijing Games have called Robinson their hero or the inspiration to pick up a paddle.

Now, Robinson is calling it an Olympic career. But he does want to stay involved in the program and help develop future talent.

"I'd like to look at what we've got for the future," he said. "I'm not standing up to be the coach, but I'd like to help young guys."

American kayaker Carrie Johnson also sees a better future for her country in the sport. Johnson just missed the final in the 500 K-1 with a fourth-place finish.

"I definitely don't feel like I've peaked out in this sport yet," the two-time Olympian said. "I have potential left. As long as I still love training and racing, and as long as I still enjoy it, I'll do it."

Johnson finished in 1:53.271 - a bit more than 2 seconds behind the winner.

"I just didn't quite have 500 meters," he said. "I died a little bit in the end. I couldn't hold on."

Johnson made it through the games without any flare-ups of her Crohn's disease, a digestive disorder. She missed a week of training in March, but was otherwise fine entering the race.

"It's something that I deal with, but that's pretty much all it can be," she said.

Rami Zur - who has never raced in a final in the Olympics - had a disappointing sixth-place finish and went home again without a shot at a medal. The two sprinters were the only American representatives in flatwater canoe/kayak and the U.S. hasn't won a flatwater medal since 1992.

"I think the last few years, we've had a younger group of people coming up and developing," Johnson said. "I think with where we were finishing this year, and if everyone continues on the path they're on, we're going to have a strong team in four years."