CASTELLDEFELS, Spain -- The boats are faster, the paddles are better, but the arms are four years older.
Greg Barton, the only United States kayaker to win two gold medals in one Olympics, and Norman Bellingham of Bethesda, Md., who teamed with Barton in the 1988 Seoul Games for their gold in the 1,000-meter doubles, discovered those realities at the 1992 Games.
In 1988, Barton won his gold medals in two hours. His winning time in the 1,000-meter singles was 3 minutes, 55.27 seconds. Yesterday, his time of 3:37.93 -- 17 seconds faster -- was only good enough for the bronze.
In 1988, Barton and Bellingham won the 1,000-meter doubles event in 3:32.42. Yesterday, their time of 3:19.26 -- faster by 13 seconds -- was only good enough for a thanks-for-coming-by fourth place.
In yesterday's singles, Barton paddled his way to a close third, .67 of a second behind the winner, Clint Robinson of Australia (3:37.26). Knut Holmann of Norway took the silver in 3:37.50.
Ninety minutes later, Barton and Bellingham finished more than three seconds behind the German team of Kay Bluhm and Torsten Gutsche (3:16.10). Sweden was second in 3:17.70. Poland was third in 3:18.86.
"The times are definitely faster," Barton said, "and that has to do, mainly, with two things.
"First is the new paddle design [a semi-scoop] that was developed in 1989, after Seoul, by Norway. Soon everybody adopted it.
"The new boats make a small difference, but the training people are getting now is the other significant factor. In the past, the East Germans and the Soviets were so much more advanced with their coaching, their technology and their physiology. Now, the rest of the world has caught up."
At 32, Barton is tired of playing catch-up. He announced before the Barcelona Games began that he would retire from competitive flat-water racing after the Olympics. His impact on kayaking in the United States, however, is likely to stay.
"What's he given to the sport?" said his partner, Bellingham, repeating a reporter's question. "Good God. Greg's a legend. I got to paddle in two Olympics with a legend. That's not too bad. . . .
"Greg made it attainable. He made it more realistic. For years, Americans never thought they had a shot. Now, they go into the Olympics believing they can medal. That's quite an attitude to have."