The kayak as used for Canoe slalom originated in northern Canada and means ‘man boat’. British explorer and travel writer John MacGregor are credited with having transformed canoe into a sport with the founding of the Royal Canoe Club in 1866.
As it is today, canoe slalom first took place in 1933 as a summer alternative to the winter skiing slalom. At an Olympic level, the sport was first seen in 1972. The sport, however, did not return until Barcelona 1992 where the sport finally saw gold again. Slalom has been seen at every Olympics since that date.
In the canoe slalom, competitors steer a canoe or a kayak over a white-water course. These white-water courses have developed over time to become artificial fast watercourses, with safety now top of mind for both competitors and organisers.
Tokyo 2020 rules
Canoe Slalom is a timed sport in which the different competitors must pass through a series of gates to have their times counted.
There is a time penalty for missing a gate of 50 seconds. In a sport where the course is designed to be completed between 90 and 110 seconds, this penalty effectively ends the chances of winning. A penalty of two seconds also occurs if a competitor touches a gate.
There are up to 25 gates throughout the course, which cannot be longer than 300 meters long. There must be at least six upstream gates throughout a course. Whether a gate is designed to be tackled upstream or downstream is designated by colour, red for upstream or green for downstream.
There are two different boats used for these events. The men’s events include K1 and C1, while the women’s events also include K1 and C1. For both men and women, the K1 stands for kayak one and C1 stand for canoe one. The one in each event stands for one person.
A kayak has a seat in the bottom and fits one person, where a canoe is paddled while being knelt on and accommodates one person. In non-Olympic events, slalom events also include events where teams of two compete together. A kayak also uses a double-bladed paddle compared with a canoe which uses only one blade on the paddle.
The Olympic competition will consist of two heats, then leading into a semi-final and a final. Slovakia has dominated the canoe slalom through the Olympic games. The country has won seven gold medals through the games and is home to the only three athletes to win three or more Olympic medals.
Why to watch
Canoe slalom is extremely exciting; seeing the speed at which these athletes can push down the white water is incredible. Canoe slalom is also a sport that does not receive much attention in media apart from during the Olympic period. These are professional athletes and deserve our attention outside of the four-year cycle,
Slalom is not a sport we see in Australia, and it certainly is not a sport that is participated in for most Australians. This is primarily a sport done by winter countries during their summer months to keep their skiers fit. This allows viewers to see countries that perform well that are not on the top rung of the Olympic ladder.
Perhaps the most crucial reason for Australian audiences to watch is Jessica Fox. This will be Fox’s third Olympics, and she will want to add gold to the silver and bronze medals she already has.
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Australian Canoe Slalom history
Canoe Slalom is a relatively new event for Australians and especially in the Olympics. Australia sent its first athletes to this event in 1992, where Danielle Woodward won the silver medal in the women’s kayak event,
There was then quite a gap in Australian competitors winning a medal before Robin bell won bronze in the C1 event. Jacqueline Lawrence also won silver at these games in the Kayaking event.
But of course, the highlight of Australia’s slalom history is Jess Fox. She had all of Australia behind her during her silver medal run at the London 2012 games. Fox then followed this up with a bronze in Rio. Fox will once again compete at Tokyo 2020 and will be looking to add to her already extensive medal collection.
Australian Competitors for 2020
Australia will be sending over three athletes for the slalom competition at Tokyo 2020. Jessica Fox will lead the canoe team. While Lucien Delfour will compete in the men’s K1. Daniel Watkins will pull on the green and gold in the C1 event.
Jessica Fox: She may have been born in France, but Fox is as recognisable Australian athlete as they come. Fox comes from solid Olympic stock; her mother competed for France at the 1996 games, and her father competed for Great Britain at the 1992 games. Fox is a seven-time world champion in her sport and will be the athlete to watch in the canoe slalom.
Lucien Delfour: Another French/Australian athlete, Delfour, will compete at his first Olympics in Tokyo 2020. Interestingly Delfour was born in French Polynesia and competed for France until 2010, when he began representing Australia. Delfour will not get into the Olympics as a favourite, although he has excellent recent performances. Delfour won silver at the 2019 world championships at Markkleeberg.
Daniel Watkins: As one of very few Australians competing at the games that come from Tasmania, Watkins will have all the state’s eyes on him. Watkins is rare in slalom competitors as he competes in both the C1 and K1 internationally. However, at the Olympics, he has only qualified for the C1 event in what will be his first Olympic appearance.
Jessica Fox: It is impossible to go past Fox as the favourite for the C1 event. No woman has won more international titles than Fox. Her seven world championships prove what an outstanding athlete she is. At 27, Fox will undoubtedly continue to attend Olympics; however, she will want to get that gold while still in her prime.
Jiří Prskavec: From the Czech Republic, Prskavec will undoubtedly be the gold medal favourite. He is coming off a win at the 2021 world championships in Prague. In the K1 event, there is almost no real competitor. Prskavec has slalom in his blood, with his father also having competed at world and European championships.
Matej Benus: From Slovakia, Benus is one of the most important slalom athletes in the world. His resume is littered with gold medal performances, and he will no doubt look to add to this collection in Tokyo. His most recent achievement is a gold medal at the 2019 canoeing world cup in Prague.
The Canoe Slalom events get underway from the 25th of July through to the 30th of July. This one of the most exciting competitions throughout the world is a must-watch. The event will take place at the Kasai slalom centre.