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Canoe slalom (previously known as whitewater slalom) is a competitive sport with the aim to navigate a decked canoe or kayak through a course of hanging downstream or upstream gates on river rapids in the fastest time possible. It is one of the two kayak and canoeing disciplines at the Summer Olympics, and is referred to by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as Canoe/Kayak Slalom. The other Olympic canoeing discipline is canoe sprint. Wildwater canoeing is a non-Olympic paddlesport.
Canoe slalom racing started in Switzerland in 1933, initially on a flatwater course.In 1946, the International Canoe Federation (ICF), which governs the sport, was formed. The first World Championships were held in 1949 in Switzerland. From 1949 to 1999, the championships were held every odd-numbered year and have been held annually in non-Summer Olympic years since 2002. Folding kayaks were used from 1949 to 1963; and in the early 1960s, boats were made of fiberglass and nylon. Boats were heavy, usually over 65 pounds (30 kilos). With the advent of kevlar and carbon fiber being used in the 1970s, the widths of the boats were reduced by the ICF, and the boats were reduced in volume to pass the gates, and boats have become much lighter and faster.
From 1949 to 1977, all World Championships were held in Europe. The first World Championship held in North America was held at Jonquière, in Québec, Canada, in 1979. It has been a regular Olympic sport since 1992.
In 2020 during the Tokyo Olympics, C2 men loses its status as an official Olympic event and is to be replaced by C1 women.
Each gate consists of two poles hanging from a wire strung across the river. There are 18-25 numbered gates in a course, of which 6 or 8 must be upstream gates, and they are colored as either green (downstream) or red (upstream), indicating the direction they must be negotiated. Upstream gates are always placed in eddies, where the water is flat or moving slightly upstream; the paddler enters an eddy from the main current and paddles upstream through the gate. Downstream gates may also be placed in eddies, to increase the difficulty, and downstream gates in the current can be offset to alternating sides of the current, requiring rapid turns in fast-moving water.
Most slalom courses take 80 to 120 seconds to complete for the fastest paddlers. Depending on the level of competition, difficulty of the course, degree of water turbulence. and ability of the other paddlers, times can go up to 200 seconds.
In international competitions (World Cups, World Championships, Olympic Games) each competitor does two runs in the qualification round, called the "heats"; the time of the faster run gives the qualification result. Depending on the number of participants in the event, 10 to 40 boats make it through to the semi-final; this consists of one run on a different course. The fastest semi-final boats, the number determined by the number of participants, make it through to the final, where they navigate the semi-final course once more. Their ranking within the final group is based on the time of that last run alone.
If the competitor's boat, paddle or body touches either pole of the gate, a time penalty of two seconds is added. If the competitor misses a gate (for the gate to be considered correctly negotiated, the whole head of the athlete (or all athletes) and at the same time a part of the boat must pass through the gate), deliberately pushes the gate to pass through, goes through the gate in the wrong direction or upside-down, or goes through it in the wrong order, a 50-second penalty is given. Only one penalty can be incurred on each gate, and this will be taken as the highest one.
There are currently four Olympic Medal events:
In the 1960s and early 1970s, boats were made of heavy fiberglass and nylon. The boats were high volume and weighed over 30 pounds (14 kilos). In the early 1970s Kevlar was used and the boats became lighter as well as the volume of the boats was being reduced almost every year as new designs were made. A minimum boat weight was introduced to equalize competition when super light materials began to affect race results. The ICF also reduced the width of the boats in the early 1970s. The gates were hung about 10 cm above the water. When racers began making lower-volume boats, the gates were raised in response to fears that new boats would be of such low volume as to create a hazard to the paddler. Their low-volume sterns allow the boat to slice through the water in a quick turn, or "pivot".
Typically, new racing boats cost between $1,200 and $2,500 (or $850 onwards for the cheapest constructions in fiberglass). Usually boats are made with carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass cloth, using epoxy or polyester resin to hold the layers together. Foam sandwich construction in between layers of carbon, Kevlar, or Aramid is another technique in use to increase the stiffness of slalom boats.
In 2005 the minimum length of these boats was reduced from 4 meters down to 3.5 meters, causing a flurry of new, faster boat designs which are able to navigate courses with more speed and precision. The shorter length also allows for easier navigation and less boat damage in the smaller manmade river beds that are prevalent in current elite competitions.
Boat design progression is rather limited year to year. Directly from the 2017 ICF Canoe Slalom Rules:
There are rules governing almost every aspect of slalom equipment used in major competition, including sponsor advertisement. Some of these rules vary from country to country; each national canoe and kayak governing body publishes its own variation of the rules.
Slalom courses are usually on Class II - IV whitewater. Some courses are technical, containing many rocks. Others are on stretches containing fewer rocks and larger waves and holes.
Slalom canoeing made its Olympic debut in 1972 in Augsburg, West Germany, for the Munich Games. It was not seen again until 1992 in La Seu d'Urgell as part of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Since then, slalom paddling has been a regular Olympic event in the following locations:
The 1972 Olympics in Augsburg were held on an artificial whitewater course. The Augsburg Eiskanal set the stage for the future of artificial course creation. With the exception of the altered river bed of the Ocoee River in 1996, every Olympic venue has been a manmade concrete channel. Since the late 1980s, artificial course creation has surged; now most countries that field Olympic slalom teams have more than one artificial course to train on. Artificial river creation has evolved and new courses have fewer issues than some of the initial designs.
A kayak is a small, narrow watercraft which is typically propelled by means of a double-bladed paddle. The word kayak originates from the Greenlandic word qajaq.
A canoe is a lightweight narrow vessel, typically pointed at both ends and open on top, propelled by one or more seated or kneeling paddlers facing the direction of travel and using a single-bladed paddle.
Whitewater forms in a rapid context, in particular, when a river's gradient changes enough to generate so much turbulence that air is trapped within the water. This forms an unstable current that froths, making the water appear opaque and white.
Canoeing is an activity which involves paddling a canoe with a single-bladed paddle. Common meanings of the term are limited to when the canoeing is the central purpose of the activity. Broader meanings include when it is combined with other activities such as canoe camping, or where canoeing is merely a transportation method used to accomplish other activities. Most present-day canoeing is done as or as a part of a sport or recreational activity. In some parts of Europe canoeing refers to both canoeing and kayaking, with a canoe being called an open canoe.
Whitewater kayaking is a recreational outdoor activity which uses a kayak to navigate a river or other body of whitewater or rough water.
Wildwater canoeing is a competitive discipline of canoeing in which kayaks or canoes are used to negotiate a stretch of river speedily. It is also called "Whitewater racing" or "Downriver racing" to distinguish it from whitewater slalom racing and whitewater rodeo or Freestyle competition.
Canoe freestyle is a discipline of whitewater kayaking or canoeing where people perform various technical moves in one place, as opposed to downriver whitewater canoeing or kayaking where the objective is to travel the length of a section of river. Specialised canoes or kayaks (boats) known as playboats are often used, but any boat can be used for playing. The moves and tricks are often similar to those performed by snowboarders, surfers or skaters, where the athlete completes spins, flips, turns, etc. With modern playboats it is possible to get the kayak and the paddler completely airborne while performing tricks. The competitive side of playboating is known as freestyle kayaking.
The Augsburg Eiskanal is an artificial whitewater river in Augsburg, Germany, constructed as the canoe slalom venue for the 1972 Summer Olympics in nearby Munich.
Canoe sprint is a sport in which athletes race canoes or kayaks on calm water.
An artificial whitewater course (AWWC) is a site for whitewater canoeing, whitewater kayaking, whitewater racing, whitewater rafting, playboating and slalom canoeing with artificially generated rapids.
Lee Valley White Water Centre is a white-water slalom centre, that was constructed to host the canoe slalom events of the London 2012 Olympic Games. On 9 December 2010, Anne, Princess Royal officially opened the venue which is owned and managed by Lee Valley Regional Park Authority. The £31 million project to construct the centre finished on schedule and was the first newly constructed Olympic venue to be completed.
Jon Phillip Lugbill is a whitewater canoe slalom racer. During the 1980s, he participated in international racing in Men's Individual C1. He is the only slalom racer to ever appear on the Wheaties box.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center (USNWC) is an outdoor recreation and athletic training facility for ice skating, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking which opened to the public on November 4, 2006. The Center is located in Charlotte, North Carolina on approximately 1,300 acres (530 ha) of land adjacent to the Catawba River, with more than 45 miles (72 km) of developed trail.
The Kananaskis River is a mountain river in western Alberta, Canada. It is a tributary of the Bow River, crossing the length of Kananaskis Country.
The Dickerson Whitewater Course, on the Potomac River near Dickerson, Maryland, was built for use by canoe and kayak paddlers training for the 1992 Olympic Games in Spain. It was the first pump-powered artificial whitewater course built in North America, and is still the only one anywhere with heated water. It remains an active training center for whitewater slalom racing, swiftwater rescue training, and other whitewater activities.
Whitewater canoeing is the sport of paddling a canoe on a moving body of water, typically a whitewater river. Whitewater canoeing can range from simple, carefree gently moving water, to demanding, dangerous whitewater. River rapids are graded like ski runs according to the difficulty, danger or severity of the rapid. Whitewater grades range from I or 1 to VI or 6. Grade/Class I can be described as slightly moving water with ripples. Grade/Class VI can be described as severe or almost unrunnable whitewater, such as Niagara Falls.
The Tacen Whitewater Course is a venue for canoe and kayak slalom competition in Tacen, Slovenia, a suburb of Ljubljana. Located on the Sava River, eight kilometers northwest of the city center, it is known locally as Kayak Canoe Club Tacen. The course played an important role in development of the sport during the past six decades. In 1939, when its first competition was held, it was a natural rapid at the base of a dam in the Sava River. In 1990, after many upgrades, it was given a concrete channel and the features of a modern Olympic-style slalom course. The course now starts in the lake behind the dam, and the spillway is the first drop. Tacen hosts a major international competition almost every year, examples being the 1955, the 1991, and the 2010 Championships.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center, near Ducktown, Tennessee, United States, was the canoe slalom venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and is the only in-river course to be used for Olympic slalom competition. A 1,640 foot stretch of the Upper Ocoee River was narrowed by two-thirds to create the drops and eddies needed for a slalom course. Today, the course is watered only on summer weekends, 34 days a year, for use by guided rafts and private boaters. When the river has water, 24 commercial rafting companies take more than 750 raft passengers through the course each day.
The following outline is provided as an overview of canoeing and kayaking:
The Ondrej Cibak Whitewater Slalom Course, in Liptovský Mikuláš, Slovakia, is the world's second-oldest artificial whitewater venue for international canoe slalom competition, after the Augsburg Eiskanal. Built in 1978, it diverts water around a small dam on the Váh river. With recent upgrades, including a covered stadium for spectators, it remains a prime site for the sport.