Canoe slalom began in 1932 in Switzerland. The inspiration for the sport came from ski slalom, in which racers go down a predefined course, passing through gates. Snow was replaced with white, turbulent water and rules which state that some gates must be traversed in the upstream direction.
The first official competition took place in 1933, but the Second World War stunted the discipline’s development. In 1949, four years after the end of the conflict, the International Canoe Federation (ICF), which was 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 while allowing competitors to move in an agile manner.
Canoe 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. It has remained part of the Olympic programme ever since, with the same number of events. Mena nd womena compete individually in both canoe and kayak racing, while men currently compete in pairs in canoe races.
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. Any penalties accrued add time.
The winners is the competitor (s) with the lowest time after all penalties have been computed.