What is Wildwater Canoeing?

Wildwater canoeing is a timed event consisting of two forms of racing, classic and sprint. When the sport began only the longer-distance format (now known as classic) was in use until a shorter sprint version was also later introduced. Wildwater courses can contain class two to class four whitewater, with classic courses varying from three to six miles in length (10 to 35 minutes) and sprint courses between 200 and 600 metres (one minute). Some paddlers specialise between the two formats, but the majority compete in both.

Wildwater canoeing is contested by two types of boat, canoe (C) and kayak (K). Men and women compete in singles in both canoe (C1, C1W) and kayak (K1, K1W), and also doubles in canoe (C2, C2W) with individual and team events held. Teams are made up of three competitors in the same class. Wildwater canoes and kayaks are long and narrow with a rounded hull, which makes them fast but also unstable and hard to turn, so paddlers tilt the boat to one side rather than using wide sweep strokes.

The first world championships in wildwater canoeing was held in 1959 in Treignac, France, and have been held every two years since (except 1995 and 1996, when there was only a one-year gap as the event switched from odd to even years). They featured only the classic format until 2002 when sprint events were introduced for the first time. In 2011 the first sprint only world championships took place, and they are also held every two years, resulting in sprint having a world championships every year whereas classic remains biannual.

At the 2016 World Championships in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Emil Milihram of Croatia won his sixth consecutive C1 individual classic world title, equalling the world championships record set by Italy’s Vladi Panato in the same event (1993-2002). Panato also won the C1 individual sprint world title in 2002, one of only eight occasions the sprint and classic double has been done in an individual event at the same world championships, most recently by Belgium’s Maxime Richard in 2016 in the K1.

France has recently dominated the men’s canoe team sprint events, winning nine of the last 10 world titles in C1 team sprint and C2 team sprint, with only Czech Republic able to break that run by winning the C1 team sprint in 2016. Czech Republic themselves won three of the four team classic world titles in 2016, missing out only in the K1 team classic (Germany winners).

Wildwater canoeing has also proved to be a route to an Olympic canoe discipline. Germany’s Max Hoff was K1 individual sprint world champion in 2006 before going on to claim a bronze medal in canoe sprint K1 1000m at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and a gold medal in canoe sprint K4 1000m at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

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