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Sports & venues

Sportsman paddling a canoe

Eton Dorney (Flatwater); Broxbourne Canoe Slalom Course (Slalom)

Dates: Sunday 29 July – Saturday 11 August, 2012

Gold medals: 16 (12 Flatwater, 4 Slalom)

Athletes: 330 (248 Flatwater, 82 Slalom)

Canoeing: Then and now

The first canoes and kayaks were made thousands of years ago by native Americans and Polynesian islanders. They were originally used for hunting, fishing and transport on water.

Racing began in the 19th century, after British travel writer John MacGregor copied the design of the ancient boats, and founded the Royal Canoe Club of England in 1866.

Today, races are held on both flat water and white water courses at sites across the world.

How to play – and win

Within canoe racing there are two disciplines, Canoe Sprint and Canoe Slalom. Canoe is a generic term and includes kayaks and canoes. The kayak ‘paddler’ is in a sitting position with a double ended paddle and the canoe ‘paddler’ kneels in the boat using a single bladed paddle.

Canoe Sprint

In the Sprint competitions, paddlers race across calm water over distances of 500m and 1000m. There are events for single athletes (C1, K1), pairs (C2, K2) and fours (K4).

Athletes compete head-to-head, in one of nine lanes with the aim of crossing the finish line first.

Canoe Slalom

In the Slalom discipline, competitors travel down a 300m-long course on turbulent, ‘white-water’ rapids. They must pass through a twisting sequence of 25 ‘gates’, avoiding penalty time (seconds) for touching the poles.

Green and white gates must be taken in a ‘downstream’ direction; red and white gates require competitors to paddle in the 'upstream' direction. Red and white gates are placed in 'eddies' where the current's direction changes. 

If you touch a gate, two seconds is added to your time; missing a gate costs 50 seconds - a ‘wipeout’ in serious competition. In any one run the penalty time added to the run time are added to give a run score.

In the heats each competitor takes two runs, the better score counting towards gaining a semi-final place. The semi-final is a singlerun to count towards making the final. the final is a single run event. Events are held for single kayakers (C1, K1, men and women), single canoeists (C1, men only) and pairs of canoeists (C2, men only).

Canoeing at the Games

Canoe Sprint reached the Olympic Games as a demonstration event in 1924. It became a full medal sport at Berlin 1936, with women first competing (Kayak only) in London 1948.

The white-water Slalom form of the sport was introduced in Munich 1972. Like Flatwater, Slalom has usually been dominated by European countries.

Facts about Canoeing

The first Flatwater Canoe regattas were held in England in the mid-19th century.

The oldest Canoe club in the world, the Royal Canoe Club of London, was founded in 1866.

The original Inuit kayaks were made by stretching animal skin over a wooden frame.

Jargon buster

Paddler: A canoeist
Shaft: The narrow part of a paddle, gripped by the paddler.
Blade: The end(s) of a paddle
Boat Control: Boats checked for weight and length to regulations.

For Canoe Sprint

Regatta: A Canoe Sprint competition
Wash: The rough water left behind a moving boat
Start gate: Metal ‘Shoe’ in which the bow of the canoe sits immediately awaiting the start.
Seeding: Paddlers are distributed by seeding, initially on World Ranking. In any one race the ‘better’paddlers are seeded towards the middle of the 9 lanes.
Heats: Initial stages of the competition with a knock-out result.

For Canoe Slalom

Eddy: white water feature; turbulence behind obstacles.
Upstream: Water flow direction opposite to channel flow.
Upstream gate: A slalom gate (red/white) to be negotiated ‘upstream’.
Hole: A white water feature created below a drop.
PFD: Personal flotation device – a bouyancy aid.
Spraydeck: Neoprene kit that keeps water out of the cockpit (‘deck).
Offset: Zig-zag sequence of downstream gates.

Get involved

Contact your national association to find a local club and get information on development schemes for up-and-coming paddlers, see 'related websites'.

Birgit Fischer

Canoe star

Name: Birgit Fischer
Date of birth: 25 February, 1962
Hometown: Brandenburg, Germany
Gold medals: 8

Birgit is among the most decorated Olympians in history. She is the only woman to have won Olympic medals 20 years apart.

At 18, Birgit became her sport’s youngest gold medalist when she won the Kayak singles at her first Games in Moscow 1980. At the Athens 2004 Games, she took her career total to eight with victory in the K4 event.


Name: Louisa Sawers
Date of birth: 26 May, 1988
Hometown: Walton-upon-Thames

Louisa started Canoeing at age 11. In 2006, she became World Junior Marathon Champion in both the K1 and K2 events. Louisa trains with the Elmbridge Canoe Club.

She hopes to follow in the footsteps of her hero, Kelly Holmes, by winning gold at the London 2012 Games.

Related websites

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