What is Canoe Slalom?

Canoe slalom is a timed event where competitors navigate a whitewater course by passing through a combination of upstream and downstream gates. Each course is different but can be a maximum of 300 metres in length and contain a maximum of 25 gates, with a minimum of six upstream gates. The type of gate is designated by colour, red for upstream and green for downstream. Courses are designed so the leading athletes will complete them in a time of between 90 and 110 seconds, though time penalties can be incurred for touching a gate (two seconds) and missing a gate (50 seconds).

Canoe slalom is contested by two types of boat, canoe (C) and kayak (K). In canoe, a single-blade paddle is used by an athlete who is strapped into the boat with their legs bent at the knees and tucked under their body, in contrast to the double-bladed paddle used in a seated position in kayak. At international level there are five events in canoe slalom, four individual (K1W, K1M, C1W, C1M) and one doubles (C2M). Only the C1W event is not part of the current Olympic programme, but is due to be included at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Canoe slalom originated in Switzerland in 1933 as a summer alternative to slalom skiing, and was initially competed on a flatwater course. Switzerland hosted the first world championships in Geneva in 1949 and the discipline made its Olympic debut as an introduction sport at the 1972 Games in Munich, when all four gold medals were won by East Germany. It was a further 20 years before canoe slalom returned to the Olympic Games, but this time as a core sport.

Slovakia (7) hold the record for most gold medals in canoe slalom at the Olympic Games. It is the only sport Slovakia has claimed a gold medal in at the summer Games. The only three people to claim more than three medals in the discipline at the Games are all Slovakian, Michal Martikán (G2-S2-B1) and twins Pavol and Peter Hochschorner (both G3-B1). The Hochschorners have finished on the podium in the C2M at each of the last four Olympic Games.

France (53) has won the most world titles in canoe slalom, but combining Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic (58) and Czechoslovakia/Slovakia (55) would both exceed that total. Martikán and US paddler Jon Lugbill (both 12) have won the most world titles in the discipline, while the leading female is Myriam Fox-Jerusalmi (8) of France. A paddler representing Africa has never finished in the top-three at the world championships, but in 2008 in Beijing, Benjamin Boukpeti claimed Togo’s first medal in any sport at the Olympic Games when he took bronze in the K1M.

Things you need to know

  • Canoe slalom is a race against the clock through a combination of up and downstream gates on a whitewater course.
  • The course length and number of gates varies with a maximum of 25 gates and length of 300 meters.
  • The course is set with a mix of upstream and downstream gates; each presents a unique challenge for the athlete, significantly testing their ability to read and work with the water flow whilst maintaining their trajectory, balance and speed.
  • The direction the athlete must travel through each gate is indicated by colour: red for upstream and green for downstream.
  • There are a minimum of six upstream gates on each course.
  • Course designers set the gate patterns with the aim of utilising the water features - eddies, waves and stoppers - to create a competitive course. No two courses are the same.
  • The course is designed so that the fastest athletes will stop-the-clock between 90 to 110 seconds.
  • Athletes can incur time penalties with two-seconds added for a gate touch and 50-seconds for missing a gate.
  • International competitions have a qualification round followed by a semifinal and final with only 10 athletes in the final.
  • There are five events within canoe slalom with both men and women contesting the kayak and canoe singles (K1W, K1M, C1W, C1M); men can also race in the canoe doubles (C2M).
  • The Olympic Programme currently consists of four classes K1M, K1W, C1M and C2M.
  • The difference between a kayak and a canoe is simple; it’s the number of blades on the paddle and the athlete’s position in the boat.
  • In kayak, the paddler is seated and uses a double-bladed paddle pulling the blade through the water on alternate sides to propel the boat forward.
  • In canoe, the paddle has a single-blade and the athlete is strapped into the boat with their legs bent at the knees and tucked under their body.

Key milestones

  • Canoe slalom, which was originally modelled on ski slalom, began in Switzerland in 1933 on flatwater, but soon switched to whitewater rapids.
  • The first Slalom World Championships were held in 1949 in Geneva under the auspices of the International Canoe Federation (ICF) and were a biannual event until 1999. 
  • Since 2002, the senior World Championships are run every non-Olympic year with Junior and U23 age categories contested annually since 2012. 
  • In the 1960’s canals began to be diverted from rivers to create dedicated man-made competition runs. 
  • Canoe slalom was an introduction sport at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, and became a core sport at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. 
  • The Augsburg Eiskanal course that was used for the Munich Games was the first artificial whitewater course constructed and set the blueprint for modern day competition courses. 
  • The women’s C1 class was introduced at the 2010 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships and will make its Olympic debut in 2020 at the Tokyo Games. 
  • Boat design has changed dramatically since the sports inception with canvas folding canoes replaced by fiberglass and now carbon fiber.

Canoe Slalom Information

Upcoming Events

ICF Canoe Slalom Pau, France
14 - 16 August 2015
FRFrance
Pau, France Read more
2016 ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships, Ottawa, Canada
30 August - 5 September 2015
CACanada
Ottawa River, Canada Read more
2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships, London, England
16 - 20 September 2015
GBUnited Kingdom
Lee Valley, London Read more
2016 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup Ivrea, Italy
3 - 5 June 2016
ITItaly
Ivrea Info:
[email protected]
Read more
10 - 12 June 2016
ESSpain
La Seu d'Urgell, Spain Read more
16 - 19 June 2016
FRFrance
Pau, FRANCE Read more
ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup, Krakow, Poland
12 - 17 July 2016
PLPoland
Krakow, Poland Read more
Rio Canoe Slalom2016 Rio Canoe Slalom Olympic Games
7 - 11 August 2016
BRBrazil
Rio de Janeiro Read more
2016 ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup - Prague, CZE
2 - 4 September 2016
CZCzech Republic
Prague - Troja Read more
ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup Tacen, Slovenia
7 - 11 September 2016
SISlovenia
Ljubljana - Tacen Read more
Sherry Chen (TPE) C1W
24 - 26 February 2017
THThailand
Kundanprakarnchon Dam Read more
ICF Canoe Slalom World Cup, Prague, Czech Republic
16 - 18 June 2017
CZCzech Republic
Prague Read more
Canoe Slalom Augsburg, Germany
23 - 25 June 2017
DEGermany
Augsburg Read more
Canoe Slalom Markkleeberg, Germany
30 June - 2 July 2017
DEGermany
Markleeberg Read more
Canoe Slalom Markkleeberg, Germany
1 - 3 September 2017
ITItaly
Ivrea Read more
Canoe Slalom Markkleeberg, Germany
8 - 10 September 2017
ESSpain
La Seu d'Urgell Read more
Canoe Slalom Course Pau, France
27 September - 1 October 2017
FRFrance
Pau Read more