Rookie paddler claims first gold for Slovakia

CANOEING

Michal Martikan, only 17 and the winner of his first big international race three months ago, edged out the defending champion Lukas Pollert to win the gold medal in the whitewater slalom canoe on Saturday. Martikan is the youngest to win an Olympic canoe race.

Martikan's was the first gold for Slovakia, which split from Czechoslovakia three years ago. Slovakia's first medal was won on Thursday when Jozef Gonci took the bronze medal in the free rifle. In April, on the same Ocoee River course in Tennessee, Martikan paddled past Pollert, the reigning world champion, to become the youngest to win a World Cup race.

Martikan had a clean first run of 2min 41 sec, but five others posted better times and he knew he had to take risks on his second run to beat Pollert's time of 2min 31sec. This he did to prevail by 0.14sec.

Stepanka Hilgertova of the Czech Republic won the gold in the women's kayak single slalom. Lynn Simpson, the reigning world champion, washed out in her first run, capsized early and missed four gates. The British paddler managed to put together an excellent second run, but the judges penalised her 50 points for missing a gate.

Simpson appealed against the decision, saying that she had got her head under the pole. After reviewing a videotape of the second run, the judges stuck to their decision and placed her 23rd.

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