Olympic & Paralympic
Canoe Sprint and Paracanoe
Canoe races at the Olympic Games are held as whitewater slalom and flatwater sprints events and as flatwater paracanoe events at the Paralympic Games. Canoe sprint and slalom events are contested by two types of boats, a canoe (“C”) and a kayak (“K”), while the paracanoe events are contested in a kayak (“K”) and Va’a (“V”). An athlete kneels in canoe and Va’a and propels the boat with a single-blade paddle. In a kayak, an athlete uses a double-bladed paddle in a seated position. At the Tokyo Games, men (“M”) and women (“W”) canoe athletes will compete in four individual slalom events, twelve sprint events, and nine paracanoe events.
The basics of the canoe sprint and paracanoe competitions are simple. Paddle in a straight line from start to finish as fast as possible; the fastest person wins. Both sports’ strengths are the exciting head-to-head competitions in sleek boats. All paracanoe boats are single-person boats, while sprint boats are one, two, and four-person boats depending on the event. From a standing start, athletes accelerate boats up to speed in three to four strokes and paddle down the 200 meters course in all Paralympic events, while in the Olympics, course length varies from 200 to 1,000 meters. The canoe sprint was introduced in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games and became a full medal sport at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The paracanoe became a full medal sport at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.
The canoe slalom is a bit different. In canoe slalom, the boats are small, light, and agile, allowing athletes to efficiently maneuver through the rapids as they perform mastery through and around 12 to 19 downstream (green) and 6 to 8 upstream (red) gates on a 150 to 400 meters long whitewater course. The athlete receives a 2-second penalty for a touched gate and a 50-second penalty for a missed or incorrectly navigated gate. An athlete that records the lowest score, which is a combination of the time and penalties, wins. Canoe slalom originated in Switzerland as a summer alternative to slalom skiing in 1933. It debuted as an Olympics sport during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and it appears continuously in the Olympic program since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The extreme slalom is the new event that will appear for the first time on the program of the 2024 Paris Olympics. Several TV networks broadcasted the event live since its introduction by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) at the World Cups. Extreme slalom athletes combine skills of several white-water disciplines as they race in mass-produced plastic creek boats. The excitement begins at the start, with four competitors simultaneously sliding off a ramp more than six feet above the water and splashing onto the course. From there, athletes need to negotiate both downstream and upstream buoys and execute a compulsory 360-degree kayak roll while continuously adjusting tactics to avoid dangerous paddling. A contact between athletes is allowed, which adds to the thrills and excitement for spectators and athletes alike. Extreme slalom is a race of strategy and tactics, where early lead is not always desirable.