Canoe Slalom began in 1932 in Switzerland. The inspiration was the Ski Slalom, in which participants go down a predefined course, passing through gates. The differences are that rather than snow, the setting is a river with turbulent waters, and some of the gates must be traversed in the upstream direction.
The first official competition took place in 1933, but the Second World War held back the discipline’s development. After the end of the conflict, in 1949, the International Canoe Federation (ICF), founded in 1924, decided to hold its first World Championship, in Switzerland.
Unlike the vessels used in Canoe Sprint, which are longer and thinner, Slalom vessels are smaller and lighter, made of materials capable of resisting strong rapids and allowing competitors to move in an agile manner along the course.
Slalom entered the Olympic programme at the Munich 1972 Games, with three men’s events and one women’s event. The discipline only returned at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, and has remained in the programme to this day, with the same number of events. Canoe races are individual or in doubles, only for men, while in kayaks men and women compete individually.
As in Canoe Sprint, each type of vessel is identified by a letter – C for canoe, in which athletes use single-bladed oars, and K for kayak, in which competitors use double-bladed oars.
To improve visibility for live spectators and TV broadcasts, Olympic slalom races have always taken place on artificial or semi-artificial courses.
Each competitor must pass through 18 to 25 gates, which are hung from suspended wires and distributed along a 300-metre course. The gates follow a numerical sequence and the direction – downstream or upstream – for each gate is displayed. Competitors go through the course twice and their times are recorded. There are penalties that add time to each competitor’s final score.
The winners are those with the lowest time after computing all penalties.