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Chinese paddlers on track to win first slalom Olympic medal
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Three Chinese paddlers made a strong start in the Olympic canoeing slalom racing on Wednesday and looked likely to win the host country's first ever slalom Olympic medal.

The combination of Hu Minghai and Shu Junrong finished fifth in the first run of men's canoe double (C2) heats with a two-second penalty for hitting a gate. But a clean second run got them make the final with a third place among 12 crews. The top 10 made the semifinal.

Their time of 190.64 seconds was 3.91 seconds slower than Slovakia's twin brothers, Pavol and Peter Hochschorner. The powerful brothers, who won gold in Sydney and Athens, are poised to extend their years-long dominance in the C2 event and win their unprecedented third Olympic gold in Beijing.

Li Jingjing posted a second place among 21 competitors in the women's kayak single (K1) heats, only behind Athens gold medalist Elena Kaliska of Slovakia. The top 15 advance to the semifinal.

Thursday will feature the semifinals and finals of the C2 and K1 events when Li and the C2 crew will seek to make history by winning China's first canoeing slalom medal at home.

"The performances are satisfying and will give them confidence when in the semifinals and finals," said Li Xin, team manager of the China's slalom team.

"The gates will be reset tomorrow," he said. "All will be at the same starting line and we don't have any advantage."

The strong favorite Slovakia's twin brothers remained a low profile even after leading all the way into the semifinal. "Tomorrow is going to be a bit harder, and we'll be careful to have clean runs," Peter told reporters in the mixed zone.

Other main C2 medal contenders, including Cedric Forgit and Martin Braud of France, Jaroslav Volf and Ondrej Stepanek of Czech, and Felix Michel and Sebastian Piersig of Germany, all progressed smoothly into the next round.

In the women's K1, two-time Olympic champion Stepanka Hilgertova of Czech and world champion Jennifer Bongardt of Germany finished third and fourth in the heats and also earned their slots in the semifinal.

(Xinhua News Agency August 13, 2008 )

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