Sprint, or Flatwater, racing is one of the oldest Olympic sports. This is where you will find the “Fastest Male and Female Paddler on the Planet”! It is a classic test and combination of speed, explosive power, endurance and balance. The basics of sprint racing are simple: fastest paddler who stays in their lane, upright, wins. The Sprint discipline utilizes two classes of boats: canoe and kayak. Each is considered its own sub-discipline.
The Sport of Olympic Canoeing – or more accurately, Canoe/Kayak - made its debut in the Olympic Games as exhibition events in 1924. There were six events for men only – three canoe events and three kayak events. The French Olympic Committee, as hosts of these Games, asked the Canadian Olympic Committee to demonstrate the sport in Paris. Races were arranged between the Canadian Canoe Association and the Washington Canoe Club from the United States. Events were held for each of 1, 2, and 4 oarsmen for both single-end paddles (modern canoe style) and double-end paddles (modern kayak style). With the success of this exhibition, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added Canoe/Kayak to the official Olympic program for the 1936 Games.
There are currently 12 flatwater sprint events on the Olympic Program.
Sprint canoeing is also known as “Canadian” canoeing, given that Canada introduced the sport to the Olympics. This discipline requires the paddler to kneel on one knee (similar to the position of one being “knighted”) with the opposite leg placed out in front of the paddler in the canoe for balance and support. Athletes paddle only on one side to propel themselves down the course.
The Olympic Sprint Program includes singles (C1) and doubles (C2) canoe events for men only. There have been no women's canoe events in the Olympics, however, on June 9, 2017, the IOC announced the inclusion of 3 women's canoe events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, with 2 for Sprint (C1 200 meter and C2 500 meter events). "C" stands for "Canadian", respecting Canada's gift to the Olympics in 1924.
The canoe is an open deck boat (i.e., the majority of the boat is open with only short decks on top of the canoe in the front and back. The single person canoe is a maximum of 17 feet (or 5.2 meters) long, 11-12 inches (or 28-30 cm) wide with a minimum weight of 14kg (or 30.9 pounds) and is steered using a “J” stroke and other paddle maneuvers to keep the boat on course.
Athletes use a paddle with a single blade to propel the boat forward. The paddle is slightly shorter than the height of the athlete; the paddle includes a straight shaft with a single blade on one end and a “T” grip handle on the other end of the shaft. Canoeists paddle on one side only.
Olympic distances are 1000 and 200m for men, and 500 and 200m for women. Races are competed on a straight, buoyed flatwater course with 9 lanes, each boat in a separate lane.
The aim of a sprint competition is for paddlers to race each other in their respective sub-disciplines (canoe and kayak) over a clearly defined straight and unobstructed buoyed course in the shortest possible time according to the rules of the International Canoe Federation (ICF).
The current Olympic program encompasses five (5) men’s kayak events, four (4) women’s kayak events and three (3) men’s canoe events. There are no (0) women’s canoe events. Men compete in single and double canoes (C1 and C2) and kayaks (K1 and K2) at distances of 200 and 1,000 meters and in four-man kayaks (K4) over 1,000 meters. Women K1, K2, K4 500 meter events and the K1 200.
At the World and other international levels, race distances are 5000, 1000, 500 and 200 meters, respectively, for the men’s and women’s kayak class (K1, K2, K4) and men’s canoe (C1, C2, C4). These classes each have 8 events. Women canoeists at the Senior level compete in only two events: C1 200 and C2 500 meters. Under 23 and Juniors compete in three events: C1 500 and 200m and C2 200 meters.
See complete ICF Rules and Statutes for Sprint.
Photo credits to Balint Vekassy, where noted.