Slalom, or Whitewater, racing is like downhill skiing, only athletes navigate through gates in rough, splashy, whitewater rapids. Slalom racing uses two types of boats, which are the two Olympic sub-disciplines: canoe and kayak.
Slalom canoe/kayak racing was modelled from ski slalom and began in Switzerland in 1932. In its early days, it was first performed on flat water, but later switched to white water rapids. The discipline made its Olympic debut during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. It was subsequently removed from the Olympic program then reinstated for the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain.
There are currently 4 slalom events on the Olympic Program – two men’s canoe events, one women’s kayak and one men’s kayak event. There are no women’s canoe events.
Paddlers propel the boats from a kneeling position, inside the cockpit, on both knees with feet underneath them. Athletes must navigate their boat down the rapids, through gates* and around rocks or other barriers with a goal of crossing the finish line in the fastest time possible. All slalom paddlers wear a helmet and a personal flotation device (pfd) for safety.
The Olympic Slalom Program includes singles (C1) and doubles (C2) canoe events for men only. No women's canoe. Tthe "C" stands for "Canadian", respecting Canada's gift of canoeing to the Olympics in 1924. Photo credit to Wittke Photography.
C1 Men and C1 Women (Men start 2:06. Women start 31:10)
This craft is a light, narrow, open and agile boat, allowing for significant maneuverability through the rapids and gates. There are one and two-person canoes. A spray skirt** is attached to the boat and partially covers the torso of the paddler to keep water out of the canoe.
Athletes use a single-blade, straight-shaft paddle with a T-grip at the top of the shaft.
The canoe sub-discipline includes two events on the Olympic program: C1 – singles canoe and C2 –doubles canoe, but for men only. There are no Olympic canoe events for women. The kayak sub-discipline includes two events on the Olympic program: men’s K1 (singles kayak) and women’s K1.
World Cup and World Championships events also include a Team competition for kayak and canoe, consisting of three K1/C1 boats, and combining times of all three team paddlers for overall team scores.
The slalom, whitewater course is approximately 300 meters long, with men and women competing on the same course. Athletes must navigate their canoe or kayak down the rapids, through gates** and around rocks with a goal of crossing the finish line in the fastest time possible. Hitting one of the hanging gates or missing one completely results in time penalties, which are added to the paddler’s time at the end of his or her run. A 2-second penalty is given for a touched gate, and if the gate is missed completely there is a 50-second penalty. There are approximately 18-24 hanging gates for each course. The gates are color-coded to indicate which direction the paddler must pass through: e.g., green gates are negotiated heading downstream while red gates require the paddler to reverse direction and pass through them heading upstream.
Although many whitewater slalom events are still held on natural river courses, there are an increasing number of artificial whitewater courses being constructed and used for international competition around the world.
* Two striped poles suspended just above the water from a wire stretched across the course.
** A spray skirt is a flexible covering fitted to the paddlers’ waist that encloses the cockpit of a canoe or kayak to ensure that the boat is waterproof.
See complete ICF Rules and Statutes for Slalom.