Kayak racer Rami Zur has strong ties to two countries with serious issues in the world right now -- not that he's letting that affect his performance at these high-security Olympics.
The former Israeli Olympian with dual citizenship now looks like the American canoe-kayak flatwater team's best hope for its first medal since 1992. He nearly won his 500-meter single kayak (K-1) heat race yesterday, finishing 0.26 of a second behind winner Alan van Coller of South Africa, meaning Zur will race in a semifinal tomorrow.
Israel and the United States "are the two countries that I most love. I don't really care what anyone else thinks," Zur said. "The situation with the U.S. and what's going on around the world -- it's kind of similar to the feeling I had when I lived in Israel."
Zur was born in America and raised in Israel, and now lives in Chula Vista, Calif. He moved to the United States because the cost of living is less and the training opportunities a bit better, he said.
The 27-year-old has improved since finishing 13th in the 500-meter pairs kayak (K-2) and 16th in the K-2 1,000 at Sydney, his first Olympics. He's been strong in K-1 on the World Cup circuit this year, with a first and two thirds.
"I'm in better shape now than I was in the last Olympics," Zur said.
That showed when he misjudged how long it would take him to go from the boat house to the start and had to paddle hard just to make his race.
"That's why I'm pretty happy -- even though I was tired and not super fresh and focused -- to get second place," Zur said.
Meantime, seven-time gold medalist Birgit Fischer continued to make a case that, at 42, she's still the world's best in her sport.
Setting the pace from the front of her pairs kayak, Fischer and 22-year-old Carolin Leonhardt, both from Germany, led their 500-meter race from beginning to end, getting a bye straight to Saturday's final.
Leonhardt was born four years after Fischer's first gold in Moscow. Fischer, mother of a teenage son and daughter, said winning another Olympic title is not that important to her.
But "it is important for Carolin," she said, "so I want us to win."
Brendan Kingman's sixth-inning single sent Australia to a stunning 1-0 victory over Japan, putting the Aussies in the gold medal game.
Australia will play Cuba for the title today. Japan will face the loser of the other semifinal for the bronze.
A bunch of career minor leaguers led the Aussies to their biggest victory in international play. Australia failed to reach the medal round during the 2000 Sydney Games.
"It's very important for the program in Australia," Manager Jon Deeble said. "We were very disappointed after the Sydney Olympics. The day after the Sydney Olympics, we put a plan in place to win the gold medal in Athens."
Kingman, a stocky first baseman whose minor league career included stints in the Florida Marlins and Seattle Mariners organizations, provided the decisive two-out hit in a game that came down to one swing.
Kingman, 31, singled sharply to right field off right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who led Japan to its biggest Olympic win earlier in the tournament -- a 6-3 victory over Cuba in the preliminaries.
This time, Japan's all-professional lineup froze up.
Right-hander Chris Oxspring gave up five hits and struck out five in 62/3 innings. Oxspring, 27, pitched out of the bullpen for San Diego's Class AAA Portland Beavers before heading to Athens.
"It's the best day of my life and I'm sure everyone in the dugout felt the same," Oxspring said. "It's very important for us, but more important for Australian baseball."
Argentina routed Italy, 3-0, and will play for its first Olympic gold medal.
Budding star Carlos Tevez scored his seventh goal in five matches to give Argentina the lead in the 16th minute. River Plate's Luis Gonzalez scored in the 69th and second-half substitute Mariano Gonzalez put the game out of reach six minutes from the end.
The South Americans, who have now outscored their opposition 16-0 in five matches, forced the play from start to finish, while the Italians resorted to their familiar defensive tactics and occasional counterattacks.
Americans Tim Wadlow and Pete Spaulding lost their chance to win a medal in their first Olympics because of the fickle shifts in the Meltemi wind.
In one race, they picked the left side of the course and watched the wind swing dramatically to the right. In the next race, they went to the right and the wind went left. They won their third race, but it was too late.
Crews from Spain, Ukraine and Britain have locked up the medals, with only the order to be decided in tomorrow's final race. Wadlow, of Boston, and Spaulding, of Miami, can do no better than fourth after finishing 10th and 11th in the first two races.
America's Cup star Paul Cayard and Phil Trinter battled the same shifting breeze, and managed to keep themselves in medal contention in the Star class by finishing sixth in the day's only race.
Ryan Bayley rallied from behind to upset Dutch world champion Theo Bos, 2-1, in the track sprint final, taking his first major title and confirming Australia's dominance of the Olympic tournament. Rene Wolff of Germany won the bronze.
In the women's event, Canadian veteran Lori-Ann Muenzer beat Russia's Tamilla Abassova for Canada's first cycling gold medal, capping an injury-marred career for the 38-year-old. Australia's Anna Meares, the time trial gold medalist, took bronze.
Russian teenager Mikhail Ignatyev upset the favorites to win the points race, relying on his endurance to beat Spain's Joan Llaneras (silver) and German Guido Fulst (bronze).
The Russians and Japanese have a lock on the top two spots. The Americans would gladly settle for third.
Russia was first with 99.001 points and Japan second with 98.000 after the duet free preliminary routine. Americans Alison Bartosik and Anna Kozlova were third with 96.751.
The top 12 teams advanced to tomorrow night's final. The Americans are in contention for the first Olympic medal since 1996.
Dmitri Berestov of Russia took advantage of a weakened field and a series of missed lifts by the favored Said Saif Asaad of Qatar to win the 231-pound (105kg) gold -- his first title in world-level competition.
Ferenc Gyurkovics of Hungary was an equally surprising silver medalist, putting up an Olympic record 429 pounds in the snatch that was quickly matched by Berestov.
Bronze medalist Igor Razoronov of Ukraine missed a final attempt of 5111/2 pounds in the clean and jerk that would have given him the gold.