What is Canoe Marathon?
As the starter shouts “Ready, Go!” the view is instantly filled with kayaks or canoes and cascades of water are thrown into the sky by countless paddles. Shortly after the fireworks of the start, all the paddlers make it back to the start area, jump out of their boats and speed down the designated portage line with coaches, team supporters and spectators enthusiast shouting and screaming trying to encourage their paddlers to go faster, to catch up, to get on the wash … You almost lose your breath of all the excitement, and so it goes on for several short rounds with a portage on every lap. Such is the breathtaking sport of Canoe Marathon of today!
This version of Canoe Marathon is very different to the so-called Classic Canoe Marathon competition where athletes started in one place and finished in another. A radical change; finding the right balance was crucial. A close dialogue with the national teams has secured the road with the main purpose of creating a spectacular competition with as much action within the view of spectators who do not have to move and are now able to watch most of the race where the start, portage and finish take place.
This course concept opens the opportunity for many potential hosts of an ICF Canoe Marathon World Cup or World Championship, which was not the case previously. It also allows for regatta courses to be used with all the advantage of existing infrastructure.
But Canoe Marathon is much more. The traditional or Classic Canoe Marathon races most often starts in one place and finish in another and involves all kinds of water; river, lakes, estuary and sea or combinations of these challenging paddlers on calm or flowing water with the main objective. The paddler has to take the water as it is found and be prepared if it is necessary to carry the boat around an impassable obstacle.
Many popular Canoe Marathon competitions are raced down sections of river, where the paddler must negotiate the currents, rapids or weirs, or else portage around these obstacles. Some of these events attract over 2000 athletes each year and are often run in several stages over several days.
How Long Distance Racing Became An ICF Activity
Canoeing over long distances has been know as long as Canoeing has been an organised sport. For many years these activities lead to national competitions only. Some of the known established events in those days were the Kronborg race in Denmark, later the Devises to Westminster race in Great Britain, and the very colourful Sella Descent in Spain.
International interest first really came about in the 1960's, when national teams started participating regularly in the Devises and Sella events as well as in the Liffey Descent in Ireland. When the Danish Tour de Gudena began in 1968 the international interest for long distance racing increased immensely. In only a few years this race became a big hit with up to 20 countries entering and more than 1000 paddlers competing.
Motion Towards The ICF
This development and suggestions from several National Federations lead to an informal meeting in 1975 at the Tour de Gudena between the Director of the BCU Gordon Richards, the British team manager Jim Rossiter, the founder of the Gudena race Erik Wilche and the General Secretary of the Danish Canoe Federation, Jorn Cronberg.
It was decided to have a meeting in London in December of the same year with representatives of the British, Dutch, Irish, Norwegian and Danish Federations attending. The purpose was to get the ICF to recognise Canoe Marathon, which was what this meeting decided to name it. The meeting also approved a proposal by Jorn Cronberg for a set of competition rules for the 1976 ICF Congress, aiming to have the ICF to recognise Canoe Marathon as a separate competition discipline based on the fact that more than 20 National Federations were practicing this kind of Canoe racing.
The Congress however followed the Board's recommendation to set up a working group to examine Canoe Marathon before the next Congress. To put more evidence behind the efforts to convince the Board and Congress it was decided to introduce a Grand Prix series of 3-4 events a year for National Teams in K1 and K2 men. The interest and participation was a success from the start, and in 1978 the Congress decided against the Board's recommendation that Canoe Marathon should be a separate competition discipline. The Board had wanted Marathon to be attached to Touring, but instead it was decided to set up a sub committee to prepare competition rules for the following Congress. The 1980 Congress approved the competition rules, but still not a separate committee. Marathon was allowed a sub committee attached to the Paddling Racing Committee.
World Cup and Worldwide Canoe Marathon
Next step was to show that the quality of the competitions as well as the competitors was on a high level. An annual World Cup event for national teams with 3 ICF trophies for K1 and K2 men, K1 and K2 women, and C1 and C2 men was introduced.
This proved to be a very good idea, and it convinced a lot of Board members of the ICF. Considering the good situation in Canoe Marathon the 1982 Congress expressed, that Marathon should have its one separate committee in 1984, if the good development continued.
The discipline progressed, and at the 1984 ICF Congress in Sofia was not only the Marathon Racing Committee approved unanimously, but also did the bold request for World Championships pass with 28 votes for and only 4 against. This was a true milestone for Canoe Marathon Racing. After 9 years of hard work Canoe Marathon was recognised by the ICF without reservation.
With the approval to hold World Championships from 1988 on, a significant raise in interest for Canoe Marathon came about. Until then mainly European teams had participated in the events although both USA and Canada were regularly attending the major events with small teams.
Today Canoe Marathon is being practiced around the world on all continents in most member countries. The excitement of a Marathon race particularly during the portages, and the high quality of paddlers in most classes indicate that Canoe Marathon has the potential of becoming one of the more important disciplines of the International Canoe Federation. One or two categories of Canoe Marathon at Olympic Games could add to the image of our sport in general. A sport with a lot of action.