U.S. kayaker Brett Heyl doesn't buy the idea that nice guys finish last. Heyl, who attends George Washington, was named captain because he refused to back down to one of the world's leading international paddlers during a recent practice session.

Yesterday, he took the first step toward winning a medal in the kayak, putting together two strong preliminary runs that placed him in the semifinals.

He and 19 others return to the fast, foaming course at the Helliniko Complex with a clean slate for today's semifinals and finals in single kayak and two-man canoe.

Also racing for a medal will be former gold medalist Joe Jacobi of Bethesda; he and Matt Taylor advanced to the medal round in the canoe.

Single kayaker Scott Parsons, who lives in Bethesda, qualified as well by placing 14th.

Heyl set the emotional tone for the Americans when he refused to abandon a practice run as single canoeist Michal Martikan of Slovakia came upon him.

"He's notorious for not being very nice on the water," said Heyl, 22. "He's been trying to push us around for a couple months now."

Michael Kurt of Switzerland was the top qualifier in the single kayak at 186.79 seconds. Heyl was 5.5 seconds behind in combined time.

Brothers Pavol and Peter Hochschorner of Slovakia turned in the top combined time of 201.04, 22.39 seconds ahead of Jacobi and Taylor.

Brett Heyl, a student at George Washington, advances to the semifinals.