Canoe Slalom Crash Course

Whitewater canoe slalom is the sight of skill, strength and courage pitted against powerful water. This is what makes it an exciting spectator sport both live and on TV.

Imagine… You are at the start for an international slalom in the heart of the Alps. Forty tons of water thunder past you every second, and you are in a little boat weighing barely 10 kilos. Your mind is so focused that you can’t even hear the water or the crowd. You are thinking only about the minimal 18 gates that you must not miss nor touch. The first part of the course has been designed to tear your arms off. On the bank, your supporters are going crazy – but you can’t hear anything. You clear each gate individually one at a time as quickly as possible and you quickly focus on the next. Your arms are getting pumped; your body is steaming despite the chill of the river. Now comes the crux move and you’re in total concentration. One slip will destroy you. You’re through. You push harder still, though your arms are nearly paralyzed. You must stay focused; you could blow it even in the last gate. The final sprint is about 10 meters to the finishing line. “Beep” and you’re finished, out of breath, shaking out the lactic acid from your arms; you look at your finish time, smile, and wave at the camera.

Slalom disciplines
  • C1 – Slalom/whitewater single canoe consists of single-blade paddlinSlalom boatsg while kneeling
    on both knees inside the boat. *Females are prohibitted to compete at an Olympic level, however can compete at an international competitions.
  • C2 – Slalom double canoe consists of two individuals each paddling with one canoe blade while kneeling. *Only men are permitted to compete in C2.
  • K1 – Slalom kayakers use a double-blade paddle while sitting with both legs extended in front of them on foot pegs. *Open to men and women on all stages.

Precision and Speed on Whitewater…

Gates: a “gate” is two poles or one single pole, suspended over the water that creates an additional series of obstacles that a slalom paddler must navigate without touching or missing them. The number of gates can varie between 18-25.Slalom Gates

  • Green and white gates are negotiated in a downstream direction.
  • Red and white gates upstream.
  • The gates are placed to present the greatest possible challenge in
    negotiating the rapids and currents. You must clear your full head through all the gates in number order and in the correct direction.
  • Touching a gateIf you touch a pole with anything – paddle, boat, buoyancy aid, helmet or any part of your body – a 2-second penalty is added to your time.
  • Missing a gate: If you miss a gate, go through in the wrong direction or upside down, the penalty is 50 seconds.
  • The aim is to be fast and clean… Each competitor takes two runs, and the best run of the two, counts. Racers must have great upper-body strength, lightning reflexes, and finely-honed skills and psychological focus to cleanly negotiate the course as fast as they can.

The exclusion of female canoeist at the Olympics…

Canoe Slalom made its debut at the Olympic Games in 1972 in Munich, Germany and did not reappear until the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain. However since the beginning, female canoeists have been prohibitted to compete in C1W & C2W which makes canoe slalom extremely inequitable on an Olympic level.

Olympic games boat allocations

Despite the inequity displayed at the Olympic Games, the C1W discipline has been included in the  ICF World Championships and World Cup Circuit since 2008. However, despite this progress, C1 women will still not be included in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil… Female canoeists are now hoping for C1W inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

For more information and to keep abreast of this initiative, I urge you to check out WomenCAN International at WomenCAN International is an international group of women and men who have been tirelessly working toward creating racing and development opportunities for women in Olympic Canoeing.


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