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Lowest-Ranked American Wins Olympic Whitewater Medal

July 29, 1996

OCOEE RIVER, Tenn. (AP) _ America’s top-ranked kayaker failed to win an Olympic medal, but a U.S. woman ranked last in her race came away with a silver.

Scott Shipley, the American kayaker ranked first in the world and the only paddler to enter the weekend competition with a perfect record on the Ocoee River course, finished 12th in his race.

However, Dana Chladek of Kensington, Md., was a pleasant surprise with her second-place finish _ the only U.S. medal in whitewater slalom.

Chladek, who won the bronze in 1992, was sidelined most of last year with a shoulder injury and decided to retire rather than undergo surgery.

But she changed her mind last fall after watching a World Cup race on the Ocoee River, the first on the course designed for the Olympics.

Watching her colleagues battle the churning rapids in the picturesque mountains of east Tennessee, she told defending gold medalist Elisabeth Michler-Jones of Germany she still wanted to compete in the Olympics.

``She said, ``You’re so good on whitewater, you should do it,‴ Chladek recalled.

So the following month, she underwent rotator cuff surgery, and five weeks later she was in her boat. She began intense training three weeks after that, and won her first race at the U.S. team trials in April.

Her first Olympic run was a disaster. She capsized early on the 25-gate course, missing four gates, and had to wait three hours for her second run.

``That was my toughest time,″ she said. ``I tried to block out all thoughts. I thought about nothing positive or negative. I just cleared my mind. Then I got on the water and just paddled.″

She had a practically perfect run through the tricky gates and finished in 2:49, tying Stepanka Hilgertova of the Czech Republic for the fastest time. But Hilgertova got the gold because her first run was faster.

``I didn’t expect the time would hold. I didn’t expect to win,″ Chladek said.

Shipley was favored to win his race but finished 12th, six spots below teammate Rich Weiss, of Steamboat Springs, Colo.

``Being at home is a big advantage and so is having the crowd, but it is also a disadvantage because you have all the pressure,″ said U.S. team coach Jiri Pultera. ``I think that’s what happened.″

Afraid his No. 1 bib might jinx him, Shipley changed it to No. 111. But the new number didn’t bring him any luck.

``I knew it might happen,″ he said. ``I’m happy I came into the race ranked No. 1, but whitewater is just one of those sports where seconds are everything and anybody in the top 20 can medal.″

The whitewater slalom races were held on the Ocoee River, which runs through the Cherokee National Forest about 70 miles northeast of Chattanooga. Nearly 14,000 spectators attended each day of the sold-out event.

Germany’s Oliver Fix took the gold in men’s kayak, while 17-year-old Michal Martikan became the youngest to win an Olympic slalom canoe race and gave Slovakia its first gold medal. Slovakia declared its independence from Czechoslovakia in 1992.

Frank Adisson and Wilfred Forgues of France triumphed in the two-man canoe.

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