Canoe Slalom in the London Olympics


Canoe slalom is actually modelled on the traditional ski slalom; it is an event that has seen a lot of changes as it has developed. The first competitive canoe slalom was held in 1932 in Switzerland, back then the course was run over tranquil flat waters, and over the years the sport has progressed in both speed and difficulty and is now completed over a turbulent white water rapids course. This year’s Olympic events are to take place at the Lee Valley White Water Centre, a brand new white water course which will test the skills and stamina of all competitors. This is a sport spectators love to watch, as it offers spectacular entertainment as competitors’ battle against the unyielding and relentless power of the water.

Competition Details

  • Dates: Sunday 29th July – Thursday 2nd August
  • Venue: Lee Valley White Water Centre, Hertfordshire
  • Competitors: 82 in total. 61 Men and 21 Women
  • Medal Events: Four events: Men’s canoe single; Canoe Double; Kayak single and Women’s kayak single
  • The Course: The course is a full 250m of turbulent fast flowing water. Water flows at 13 cubic metres per second. From beginning to end the course drops a total of 5.5m.

About Canoe Slalom

Canoe slalom made its first Olympic appearance at the 1972 games in Munich, although it did not become a permanent event until the 1992 Barcelona games. It is an event that has grown in popularity over the years, not only seeing an increase in the numbers of athletes actively participating, but also in the increase in the amount of spectators eager to watch the canoeist battling the power of the water.

Canoe Slalom Basics

  • The course has 25 gates along its length. Red gates are to be negotiated upstream and green gates downstream.
  • Competitors are timed on each run of the course.
  • Time penalties are incurred when the gates are touched – 2 seconds, missed gates incur a penalty of 50 seconds. All penalties are added to the competitors overall run time.
  • Events are held for canoes and kayaks.
  • Slalom boats are smaller and more agile than regular canoes, allowing them more manoeuvrability in the water.

Competition Basics

  • Judges monitor each gate along the course, using coloured bats to indicate a penalty has been incurred.
  • There are judges at the start and finish points, as well as equipment controllers, gate judges and a chief judge.

Skills and Stamina

Athletes require a great deal of upper body strength to be able to compete in this sport. They also need to show incredible levels of control and precision to be able to successfully navigate the course. Athletes not only need to battle against the strength of the churning rapids but navigate their way around the course negotiating the gates as quickly as possible without incurring any penalties.

Canoe Slalom Jargon

    • Eddy: A feature of white water downstream from a race obstacle.
    • Drop: Fast current with strong eddies as a result of a fall of water.
    • Hole (Stopper): A reversal of white water flow.
    • PFD: Personal Flotation Device – an athlete’s buoyancy aid.
    • Spraydeck: The material that fits around the athlete’s waist and stretches over the entrance to the cockpit, keeping water out of the boat itself.

Creative Commons photo by Cardiff Potter