Kensington's Chladek paddles to stunning silver Kayaker was ranked last with shoulder problems

Atlanta Olympics

July 28, 1996|By COX NEWS SERVICE

OCOEE RIVER, Tenn. -- In a comeback of truly Olympian proportions, Dana Chladek of Kensington, Md., shook off a horrendous first run to win the silver medal here yesterday in women's kayak.

In an emotional moment, the Republic of Slovakia won its first Olympic gold medal ever when a 17-year old won the men's single canoe division. Michal Martikan edged out Lukas Pollert of the Czech Republic, the 1992 gold-medal winner.

It was against the odds, but Chladek's silver was even more improbable than that.

Ranked 30th out of 30 paddlers because a shoulder injury kept her on the riverbank last year, Chladek was the first down the river. She then had to wait nervously for all others to race before she knew whether she had won a medal.

Her silver medal time held up all the way through the second run of the day, as the powerful rapids of the Ocoee River and big-game pressure took their toll on the world's best whitewater athletes.

"I'm a little surprised," she said. "'I expected the run would get beat by three or four people."

Yet she was a razor's edge from taking gold. Her second run actually tied the winning time of Stepanka Hilgertova of the Czech Republic. In a sport where each racer gets two runs -- and the best one counts -- the second-best run is the tiebreaker. Hilgertova's second trip down the course was far faster than the American's dismal first run that included a flip.

Chladek would have won the gold if her paddle had not touched the second to last gate on her winning run. A gate touch adds a five second penalty to the final score.

Though she was smiling at the end, Chladek said it frustrating always to come up a little short in the big races. She was second at the 1989 and 1991 world championships and won a bronze in Barcelona Spain.

"Every time I get to the bottom [of the course], I make some little mistake," she said. "I think that's going to haunt me for the rest of my life that I never had a perfect run."

Later she added: "On the other hand, the silver medal is a big accomplishment."

Indeed, quite an accomplishment for a woman whose left shoulder hurt so badly a year ago that she could not lift her arm.

Maybe it wasn't perfect, but it sure was exciting.

She wasn't assured a medal until the No. 2 seed and reigning world champion Lynn Simpson of Great Britain put together a blistering run that was fast enough for gold. But she narrowly missed a gate by the smallest of margins, resulting in a 50-second penalty.

"It's a big race and everyone wants to win," Simpson said, smiling through the tears. "It's a lot of pressure."

The pressure was so huge that favorites Simpson and Kordula Striepecke of Germany flipped over during their first runs.

"I was in good company," a laughing Chladek said -- she also flipped on her first run.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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