Whitewater slalom

Whitewater Slalom is a competitive sport where the aim is to navigate a decked canoe or kayak through a course of hanging gates on river rapids in the fastest time possible. It is one of the two kayak and canoeing disciplines at the Summer Olympics, and is referred to by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as either "canoe slalom" or "kayak slalom". The other Olympic canoeing discipline is canoe/kayak flatwater. There is also wildwater, a non-Olympic paddlesport. Whitewater slalom racing started in Europe and in the 1940s, the International Canoe Federation (ICF) was formed to govern the sport. The first World Championships was held in 1949 in Switzerland. Since then, the Championships have been held every two years. Foldboats were used originally; and in the early 1960s, boats were made of fiberglass, and nylon. Boats were heavy, usually over 65 pounds (30 kilos). With the advent of kevlar and carbon fiber being used in the 1970s, the widths of the boats being reduced by the ICF, and the boats being reduced in volume to sneak the gates, and boats have become much lighter and faster. From 1949 to 1977 all World Championships were held in Europe. The first World Championship held in North America was held at Jonquiere, in Quebec, Canada in 1979.


Each gate consists of two poles hanging from a wire strung across the river. There are 18-25 (although nowadays there are more often near 18 than 25) numbered gates in a course and they are colored as either green (downstream) or red (upstream), indicating the direction they must be negotiated. Upstream gates are often placed in eddies, where the water is flat or moving slightly upstream; the paddler makes the 'breakout' from the main current and paddles upstream through the gate. Most slalom courses take 80 to 120 seconds to complete for the fastest paddlers. Depending on the level of competition, difficulty of course, degree of water turbulence and ability of the other paddlers, times can go up to 200 seconds. Each competitor has two runs on the course, and the final result is based either on the faster run (in smaller races or lower division races) or the sum of the two runs (in national and international competitions). In international competitions (World Cups, World Championships, Olympic Games) each competitor does two runs in the qualification round, the times are added to give the qualification result. Depending the number of participants of the event, 10 to 40 boats make it through to the semi-final; this consists of one run on a different course. The fastest 10 boats per event make it through to the final, where they navigate the semi-final course once more and times of semi-final and final run are added to give the final result.

If the competitor's boat, paddle or body touches either pole of the gate, a time penalty of two seconds is added. If the competitor misses a gate completely, displaces it by more than 45 degrees, goes through the gate upside-down, or goes through it in the wrong order, a 50 second penalty is given.

There are currently four Olympic Medal events:

  • C-1 (canoe single) Men
  • C-2 (canoe double) Men
  • K-1 (kayak single) Men
  • K-1 (kayak single) Women

ICF Proposed Slalom Rule Changes for 2009/2010 Proposed ICF Slalom Rules

In summary:

Any Rule Change should
• Increase the excitement of the sport for both Competitors and Spectators.
• Simplify events for organizers, make the sport easier to understand for Spectators, and, where possible, make the event fairer for Competitors.
• Increase the opportunity for Athletes to compete in high-level international competitions.
• Be conducive to increasing participation in the sport of slalom at both national and international levels.
• Advance the sport in the Olympic Games.

The four main ideas are as follows:
1) Introduction of an ICF World Ranking that not only considers World Cups, World Championships and Olympics, but also considers designated International Events. This World Ranking will also, in part, determine World Cup entries.
2) The Format of the World Cup, World Championships and Olympics will include an additional “Extreme” slalom race. This format is shorter (6-10 gates) and more difficult than the current format. The format of progression through these competitions (both classic and extreme) will also be changed.
3) The penalty and gates requirements will be changed. Most notably, the penalty for touching a gate will be reduced to 1 second, with a gradual phasing out of touch penalties altogether with the appropriate gate technology. In addition, the introduction of single pole gates will simplify organisation and judging at events without loss of the challenge inherent in slalom.
4) Introduction of C-1W in the 2010 World Championships.

Development of Slalom Boats

In the 1960s and early 1970s, boats were made of heavy fiberglass and nylon. The boats were high volume and weighed over 30 pounds (65 kilos). In the early 1970s Kevlar was used and the boats became lighter as well as the volume of the boats was being reduced almost every year as new designs were made. A minimum boat weight was introduced to equalize competition when super light materials began to effect race results. The I.C.F also reduced the width of the boats in the early 1970s. The gates were hung about 10 cm above the water. When racers began making lower volume boats to sneak underneath gates, the gates were raised in response to fears that new boats would be of such low volume as to create a hazard to the paddler. Their low volume sterns allow the boat to slice through the water in a quick turn, or 'pivot'.

Typically, new racing boats cost between $1,200 and $2,500 (or £650 onwards for the cheapest constructions in fiberglass). Usually boats are made with carbon fiber, Kevlar, and fiberglass cloth, using epoxy or polyester resin to hold the layers together. Foam sandwich construction in between layers of carbon,Kevlar, or Aramid is another technique in use to increase the stiffness of slalom boats.

Recently, the minimum length of these boats were reduced from 4 meters down to 3.5 meters, causing a flurry of new, faster boat designs which are able to navigate courses with more speed and precision. The shorter length also allows for easier navigation and less boat damage in the smaller man made river beds that are prevalent in current elite competitions.

Boat design progression is rather limited year to year. Designs tend to focus on providing optimal performance for upcoming critical race venues. Olympic years tend to generate boat designs with specific performance characteristics tuned for the upcoming Olympic course.

Slalom boats used in competition must meet the ICF specifications for the class. Directly from the 2005 ICF Slalom rules:

7.1.1 Measurements
All types of K1 Minimum length 3.50 m minimum width 0.60 m 
All types of C1 Minimum length 3.50 m minimum width 0.65 m
All types of C2 Minimum length 4.10 m minimum width 0.75 m
7.1.2 Minimum Weight of Boats
(The minimum weight of the boat is determined when the boat is dry)
All types of K1 9 kg.
All types of C1 10 kg.
All types of C2 15 kg.
7.1.3 All boats must have a minimum radius at each end of 2 cm horizontally and 1 cm vertically.
7.1.4 Rudders are prohibited on all boats
7.1.5 Boats must be designed to, and remain within, the required dimensions.
7.1.6 Kayaks are decked boats, which must be propelled by double bladed paddles and inside which the competitors sit.
Canadian canoes are decked boats that must be propelled by single-bladed paddles and inside which the competitors kneel.

There are rules governing almost every aspect of slalom equipment used in major competition, including sponsor advertisement. Some of these rules vary from country to country, consult your national canoe and kayak governing body for direct rules.

It is common for boat manufacturers to build elite competition quality boats lighter than the required ICF weight, thus competitors affix weight to the inside of the boat at the center point. This practice allows the boat to be more responsive to directional adjustments.

Notable Slalom Boat Manufacturers:

Double Dutch -
Caiman -
Vajda -
Galasport -
iTomco -
Nomad - no link available


Slalom courses are usually on Class II - IV whitewater. Some courses are technical, containing many rocks. Others are on stretches containing fewer rocks and larger waves and holes.

Slalom canoeing made its Olympic debut in 1972 in Augsburg, W. Germany. It was not seen again until 1992 in Seu d'Urgell as part of the Barcelona games. Since then, slalom paddling has been a regular at the Olympics.

List of Olympic locations:

The 1972 Olympics in Augsburg were held on an artificial whitewater course. The Eiskanal set the stage for the future of artificial course creation. With the exception of the altered river bed of the Ocoee River in 1996, every Olympic venue has involved extensive man made features and river bed creation/modification. Since the late 80s, artificial course creation has surged; now most countries that field Olympic slalom teams have more than one artificial course to train on. Artificial river creation has evolved and new courses have fewer issues than the some of the initial designs. Artificial rivers / creeks offer a controlled environment that offers a more consistent field of play for slalom racers and better viewing for spectators. However, natural river courses are still utilized in many national and international slalom races throughout the world.

External links

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