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Whitewater Slalom is a competitive sport where the aim is to navigate a decked canoe or kayak through a course of 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 IOC as "canoe/kayak slalom". The other Olympic canoeing discipline is canoe/kayak flatwater. There is also wildwater, a non-Olympic canoesport. Whitewater slalom racing started in Europe and in the 1940s, the International Canoe Federation was formed to govern the sport. The first World Championships was held in 1949 in Switzerland. Since then, they were held every two years. Foldboats were used back then. In the early 1960s boats were made of fiberglass, and nylon. Boats were heavy, usually over 30 pounds. With the advent of kevlar being used in the early 1970s, the widths of the boats being reduced by the I.C.F.,and the boats being reduced in volume to sneak the gates, and boats became 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 20- 30 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 placed in eddies, where the water is flat or moving slightly upstream; the paddler makes the 'breakout' and paddles upstream through the gate. Some races even contain reverse gates, to be navigated backwards, which are marked with the letter 'R'. Slalom courses typically take between 80 to 300 seconds to complete. Each competitor has two runs on the course, and the final result is based either on the faster run (in smaller races) or the sum of the two runs (in National and Olympic competitions).
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 four Olympic Medal events:
- C-1 (canoe single) Men
- C-2 (canoe double) Men
- K-1 (kayak single) Men
- K-1 (kayak single) Women
Development of 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. 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. 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 fibreglass). Usually boats are made with carbon fibre, kevlar, and fiberglass cloth, using epoxy or polyester resin to hold the layers together.
Slalom courses are usually on class 2 to class 4 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 past Olympic locations:
- 1972: Augsburg, W. Germany
- 1992: La Seu d'Urgell, Spain
- 1996: Ocoee River, U.S.A.
- 2000: Penrith, Australia
- 2004: Athens, Greece
- 2008: Beijing, China
- 2012: Broxbourne, England
- For more details on the International rules, see the pdf of the international slalom rules as stated by the International Canoe Federation website
- USA Canoe and Kayak
- Canoe Slalom UK