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Sports

Paddling with the crocodiles

German kayaker Max Hoff started off as a wild water paddler, but switched disciplines to the sprint events in order to have a chance at competing in the Olympics.

"My dream was really just to make it to the Games," Hoff recalls.

He was already among the best in his sport, conquering the wildest rivers with his kayak. But wild water racing is not an Olympic sport, and Hoff made the switch to the sprint race course to pursue his dream, even if there is a twinge of regret.

"Cruising across a lake is a little different from heading down a dynamic river," he said.

Gliding over the water

But there's was still a thrill in the new discipline, which he was attracted to immediately when he made the switch ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

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"You really have the feeling that you're just gliding over the water," Hoff said. "If you believe that you have the strength to lift the world off its hinges, that's when it's the most fun."

Hoff's decision to switch disciplines was rewarded when he managed to get fifth in Beijing despite relatively little experience as a sprinter.

After that came world and European championship titles, and a medal in London is also within reach.

To get to that position, though, Hoff trains pretty hard. Two to three times a day, he's on the water. Additionally, there's strength and conditioning, with swimming, soccer or cross country skiing in the winter. Winter training in the warm waters of Florida is also part of the regimen.

"I've had dolphins swimming around me," said Hoff. "Crocodiles too, but they didn't do anything."

Loose hips

Hoff competes in kayak, or as he puts it, "the boats where you sit - like the Eskimos - with one [double-bladed] paddle. You alternate paddling left and right."

The other Olympic boat is a canoe, in which athletes use a single-bladed paddle from a kneeling position.

Germany's Max Hoff reacts as he wins his Kayak single 1000m men semifinal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Robert F Bukaty)

Hoff has his eye on a medal in London

The kayak is long and thin, and it's pretty tippy. Hoff thinks that anyone who has never sat in one before is going to fall in the water.

"You have to keep your hips loose," he said. "That is the biggest mistake that people make. They tighten their hips and try and use force to keep the boat steady."

Kayakers like Hoff don't get rich from paddling; winning the sport's cup competition earns a prize of just 4,000 euros ($4,863). The sport has never set anyone up for life, but that doesn't bother Hoff.

"We do it because it makes us happy and because we want to do it. Sometimes even people who place well have to work on the side."

Hoff has taken care to prepare for life after his competitive career as a kayaker is over. He's already got a degree in biology, and he's working on one in business administration.

Author: Olivia Fritz / mz
Editor: Rina Goldenberg

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