Canoeing & Olympics

The history of the canoe and the kayak go back hundreds of years as a mode of transport, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that the first official canoe and kayak races were held. In 19th century Britain John McGregor founded the Royal Canoe Club in 1866 and the first competitions were held in the same year.


In 1924 Canoe Sprint made a splash as a demonstration sport at the Paris Olympics. Twelve years later at the 1936 Berlin Games, canoeing and kayaking firmly featured as a competition sport in the Summer Olympic Games. In both disciplines two styles of boats are used; canoes and kayaks.

In the Olympics, the sport takes two forms, the oldest is the power-packed Canoe Sprint and the other is the visually spectacular Canoe Slalom which has been a permanent part of the Olympic programme since 1992 (it first appeared in the 1972 Munich Games, had a short break and was permanently re introduced twenty years later).

More recently, on 13 August 2009, it was announced by the International Canoe Federation that the men's 500m events would be replaced at the 2012 Summer Olympics by 200m events, one of them being K1 200m for women. For the first time, women will have two individual events in sprint canoeing. Because of the event changes, the finals will now be spread over a three day period instead of the two-day finals which had been in effect since the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.


Events in the 2012 Games

  • 4 Canoe Slalom events; Men’s K1, C1, C2 and Women’s K1
  • 12 Canoe Sprint events; 1000m (Men's C1, C2, K1, K2, K4), 500m (Women’s K1, K2, K4) 200m (Men’s K1, K2, Women’s K1)

Quick Facts

  • ICF, formally the Internationale Repräsentantenschaft Kanusport (IRK) was formed in 1924 in Copenhagen, Denmark, it became the ICF in 1946. The Federation was initially formed for the Paris Olympic Games where Denmark, Sweden and Austria competed in the demonstration event
  • Top three in the all time Olympic canoeing medal table; Russia (29 Golds), Germany (25 Golds) and Hungary (19 Golds)
  • 1948 - women first competed in the Olympic canoeing programme
  • In the Athens 2004 Olympics David Cal from Spain got a world record in the 1000m distance in the Men’s C1 (3:46.201s)

Greatest moments

  • 24 years and 12 Olympic medals – Brigit Fischer Germany’s Brigit Fischer won eight gold and four silver medals over six different Olympic Games (and 28 World Championship Gold medals) has been both the youngest- and oldest-ever Olympic canoeing champion (ages 18 and 42)
  • 2 Golds - One Olympic Games - Greg Barton
    In 1988, his second Olympic Games, America's Greg Barton wins his 2nd and 3rd Olympic medals. He wins gold medals in both the K2 1000m and the K1 1000m distances, making him the first United States' kayaker to win an Olympic Gold medal and the only Olympic canoeing competitor, to win 2 gold medals
  • 6 Golds at four Olympics - Gert Fridolf Fredriksson a Swedish sprint canoer who competed from 1942 to 1964 won eight medals including six, one silver, and one bronze. He was the most successful male canoeist ever, having gained medals in a succession of Swedish, Nordic, World and Olympic championships from 1942 - 1960. Fredriksson remains the most successful Swede at the Olympics, winning six gold medals at four Olympics.

Looking ahead to…

  • The debut of the 200m Canoe Sprint event in the 2012 Games
  • The inclusion of Paracanoeing in the 2016 Paralympics programme
< Back