Canoe Sprint Overview

Throughout history canoes – made from logs, animal skins and tree bark – have been used for basic transportation, trade, hunting and war. In the 1860s, British barrister John MacGregor, an explorer and travel writer, studied the design of kayaks and built a similar boat to travel Europe’s waterways.


The Royal Canoe Club was formed in 1865 to hold competitions and regattas, the first of which was held in 1867 on the River Thames at Thames Ditton, Surrey.
The first international federation to govern canoeing was the Internationale Repräsentantschaft für Kanusport (IRK) founded in Denmark in 1924, which became the International Canoe Federation (ICF) in 1946.

Canoe Sprint is the traditional form of canoe racing and at previous Olympic Games was called Canoe/Kayak Flat.

Canoe Sprint today

Canoe Sprint events are held for both canoes (where athletes race kneeling on one knee and using a single-bladed paddle) and kayaks (where athletes use a double-bladed paddle while sitting).

In Canoe Sprint the boats are long and streamlined. The maximum boat length in K1 (Kayak Single) class is 5.2 metres and a maximum weight of 12 kilograms, while a C4 (Canoe Four) boat can be up to 9.0m and weigh 30kg.

Tim Brabants (GBR)
Tim Brabants (GBR)

There are a number of different classes in Canoe Sprint including individuals (C1, K1), pairs (C2, K2) and fours (C4, K4).There are races in each of these classes at the World Championships but not at the Olympic Games. Each class requires an intricate balance of strength, speed, stamina and coordination.

In recent years, the racing distances have been shortened. At the first major events the courses were staged over 1,000 and 10,000 metres for men and 5,000 metres for women.

Distances at the Olympic Games in 2012 are 200m (making its Olympic debut at London 2012), 500m and 1000m.

There are more than 150 National Federation members associated with the ICF.

Canoe Sprint at the Olympic Games

Canoe Sprint featured as a demonstration sport at the Paris 1924 Olympic Games and has been on the men’s programme since the Berlin 1936 Games and on the women’s programme since the London 1948 Games.

Birgit Fischer (GER)
Birgit Fischer (GER)

Soviet Union, Germany and Hungary have enjoyed the most success in Canoe Sprint at the Olympic Games.

In the men’s competition, Gert FREDRIKSSON (SWE) dominated the early Canoe Sprint competitions at the Olympic Games, winning six gold medals between London 1948 and Rome 1960.

Birgit FISCHER (GER) is the most successful female athlete in Canoe Sprint history. She won eight gold medals (12 medals in total) between Moscow 1980 and Athens 2004 and is the only woman in Olympic history to win medals twenty years apart.

Difference between Canoe and Kayak

Canoes are propelled by single-bladed paddles and athletes race kneeling on one knee. These canoes have no rudder, so the boat must be steered by the athlete’s paddle. Canoes may be entirely open or be partly covered. The minimum length of the opening must be 280cm.

In Canoe Sprint the boats are long and streamlined, while in Canoe Slalom the boats are small, light and agile, allowing for greater manoeuvrability through the rapids.

With the kayak, the athlete sits in the cockpit and uses a double-bladed paddle. Kayaks are steered using a foot-operated rudder system. The rudder must be placed under the hull of the boat. For Canoe Double (C2), Kayak Double (K2), Canoe Four (C4) and Kayak Four (K4), the rudder is placed in the front cockpit and can only be operated by the front athlete.

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