Michal Martikan of Slovak made a strong start in the Olympic canoeing men's slalom single (C1) heats on Monday, showing he was ready to regain the title after 12 years.
Martikan, who won the title in the 1996 Olympics when he was only 17, finished the two heat runs with a time of 170.15 seconds and led all the way to the semifinals.
His arch rival, double Olympic champion Tony Estanguet, posted a sixth place with a time 176.08 seconds after being given a two-second penalty for touching a gate.
Martikan, who won silvers in Sydney and Athens, skipped the world cups this year in a bid to show his best shape at Beijing Olympics.
"It was impossible to go to the World Cup and prepare for Beijing Olympics at the same time for me. So I chose to prepare for the Games," the Slovakian said.
All the medal contenders progressed smoothly into the next round, and among them are Jan Benzien of Germany, David Florence of Britain, and Robin Bell of Austrilia.
Chinese canoiest Feng Liming finished 11th among 16 paddlers and joined 11 others to advance to the semifinals.
"It's the hardest course in the world. But I just made through to tomorrow, so it's not so serious," said Bell, who finished 7th in the heat.
Chinese canniest Feng Liming finished 11th among 16 paddlers to the thunderous applause of home crowds and joined 11 others to advance to the semifinals.
"He did much better for his world ranking of 45th. The competition was rather fierce and the world top 20 athletes all have a chance for a medal," said Li Xin, team manager of China's canoe/kayak slalom team.
(Xinhua News Agency August 11, 2008)