Olympic24: Heath and Schofield take World Cup bronze

Olympic bronze medallists Liam Heath and Jon Schofield take sprint canoe World Cup gold while Tonia Couch claims the Diving World Series overall...


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Canoes and kayaks have been an important means of crossing small stretches of water for transport, hunting and fishing ever since early civilizations hollowed out to trees to use as primitive boats.

The Inuit Eskimos stretched animal skins waterproofed with whale fat over frames made from whalebone and driftwood to create the closed-top kayak, while Native North and South Americans developed the similar open-topped bark canoe for inland waterways.

In the 1860s, British barrister John MacGregor – a noted explorer and travel writer - studied the design of ancient kayaks and built a similar boat with which to travel Europe’s waterways.

Over time, other people were inspired by his design and the Royal Canoe Club was formed in 1865 to hold competitions and regattas. Britons traveling around the world introduced the concept to other countries. After the early popularity of flat-water canoeing, white-water canoeing on turbulent rivers emerged in the run-up to World War II and gradually became incorporated into the sport.


Olympic History

Although flat-water canoe and kayak events joined the Olympic schedule in 1936, slalom events didn’t join the roster until a one-off appearance in the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany. Despite its early popularity, the sport disappeared off the schedule until the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, and has been on the programme ever since.

Two of the best singles slalom competitors of recent years have been Frenchman Tony Estanguet and Slovakian Michal Martikan, who have won two golds and one gold and two silvers respectively.


Canoe and kayak slalom races take place on a river-like water course, featuring natural hazards and eddies. A sequence of 18 to 25 slalom gates are placed on the course – with at least six requiring the athlete to head upstream. Athletes must pass through the whole slalom sequence, receiving time penalties if they hit or miss the gates.



In comparison with flat-water canoes, which are open, slalom canoes are closed to prevent the ingress of water in the rougher, white-water conditions. Known as Canadian canoes, they are operated from a kneeling position with a single-bladed paddle. They carry one (C1) or two (C2) athletes. Events are for men only. The shorter C1 canoes are a maximum of 4m in length and 70cm in width and must weigh a minimum of 10kg, while the C2 canoes are 4.58m in length and 80cm in width with a minimum weight of 15kg.



Kayaks have a closed top and are operated from a sitting position using paddles with blades at each end. Unlike flat-water kayaks, slalom kayaks don’t have a small rear rudder operated by the feet and are only operated by one athlete. K1 kayaks have a minimum length of 4m and minimum width of 60cm and must weigh a minimum of 9kg.



The gates are made up of poles of 2m in length suspended from a wire to the surface of the water. The gap between them should be between 1.2m and 3.5m.


Single-bladed paddle

A paddle with a blade at just one end for canoeing.


Double-bladed paddle

A paddle with a blade at both ends for kayaking.


Bent Shaft Paddle

A paddle with a bend in the shaft to increase power. It has the downside of decreasing control, however.


Spray skirt

A stretch of waterproof material attached between the waist of the athletes and the surface of the craft to prevent water getting into the canoe or kayak.


Helmet and life vest

Due to the placement of natural hazards and the turbulence of the water in slalom events, competitors are required to wear head protection and a life vest to keep them afloat if they capsize.


The Race

Slalom canoeists need good timing and control to keep the boat on the fastest line through the 25 gates (at least 6 must be upstream) of the 300 - 500m course of turbulent water. If competitors touch the gates they incur five penalty points. 50 penalty points are given if competitors fail to go through a gate. The winner has the best combination of fastest time and lowest or no penalty points.


The ‘gates’ are placed specifically in locations so the competitor passes them downstream, (green gates), or upstream - against the current - (red gates, of which there must be at least six in the course).

A competitor receives a two-point penalty for touching a gate during the race and a fifty-point penalty for missing a gate.

Penalty points are added to the final time. (For example: a competitor finishes in a time of 2:20:82. Each second counts for one point, making 2:20:82 minutes a total of 140.82 points. However, during the race the competitor touched a gate once and missed another one. Two further points are added for touching one gate and an additional fifty points for failing to go through a gate, bringing the total up to 192.82 points).

The winner is the competitor with the least amount of points.

In the slalom race there are heats (two runs), semi-finals (one run) and finals (one run).

Every competitor / crew races on his / her own boat down the course, the opponent being the clock and the gates to be passed.

Depending on the number of participating athletes, competitors usually start at one-minute intervals in the heats and up to two-and-a-half minute intervals in the finals.

There are four disciplines in the Olympic programme: three men’s (K1, C1, C2) and one women’s (Κ1).

Weighing the boat and measuring its dimensions before the contest starts and after each race is an important competition procedure. Additionally, the specifications of the helmet and the buoyancy of the competitor’s lifejacket (weighing 6 kg) are checked

Team HeroesEntire Team

Tim Baillie’s parents were both keen canoeists, competing in the slalom discipline, so it was no surprise that he followed in their footsteps, achieving world and European success.

Baillie will finally make his Olympic debut ...

Etienne Stott, alongside Tim Baillie, finished second to David Florence and Richard Hounslow at the trials. He learnt to paddle on the River Great Ouse while in the Scouts and has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nottin...

David Florence was the only one of the five British athletes selected to compete in canoe slalom in London 2012 to have experienced an Olympics before – winning silver in the C1 at Beijing 2008. However he will also experience a first hav...

Richard Hounslow won the K1 at the selection trials and the C2 with David Florence and competed in both at London 2012.

A Tottenham Hotspur FC fan, Hounslow graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a degree in sports science and ...

Our Results

Total: 7 medals
  • 1 Gold
  • 5 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
Barcelona 1992
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Atlanta 1996
  • 0 Gold
  • 0 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Sydney 2000
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
Athens 2004
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 1 Bronze
Beijing 2008
  • 0 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
London 2012
  • 1 Gold
  • 1 Silver
  • 0 Bronze
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