What is canoe slalom?
Canoe slalom originated in Switzerland in 1933 and the sport became an official part of the Olympic program in 1936 at the Berlin Games. Unlike other forms of canoeing, the boats used in canoe slalom are small and easily maneuverable. The boats are designed this way to allow competitors to make their way through a white water rapids course, which is known for fast-moving waves and rough currents that are difficult to navigate. Athletes move forward using a single-bladed paddle.
An official white water course is 300 meters in length. Throughout the race, athletes are required to pass through 25 checkpoints with poles marking each side. Different colored poles are used to indicate whether the boat must pass through the checkpoint forwards or backward. Riders get a penalty for touching one of the poles (two seconds added) or failing to pass through the checkpoint (50 seconds added). Once the athletes complete the course and cross the finish line, they are assigned an official time that represents the total time it took them to go 300 meters and any time penalties obtained along the way.
Canoe slalom is an incredibly challenging sport, requiring strength and a deep understanding of how to paddle against the constant waves and water currents. The position of the checkpoints makes the sport even more complicated, with some being placed upstream while others are downstream. Generally speaking, the fastest paddlers tend to complete the course in 90-110 seconds before adding penalty time. Less skilled riders tend to take upwards of three minutes, especially if the water is exceptionally rough on race day.