Watching whitewater slalom racing

Slalom kayak racing is an action-packed sport that demands just less than two minutes of precise paddling on a constantly changing playing field of whitewater. Twenty slalom gates are hung across a river to test the competitor’s skills, physical abilities, luck and finesse. On every whitewater slalom course there is a single invisible fastest line down the rapids to the finish.

The slalom racer must pass through the series of upstream and downstream gates in numerical order. Green and white striped poles are downstream, and red and white poles are upstream. Six upstream gates are typically placed in the slower moving currents behind rocks, other river features or along the shore. Racers are penalized two seconds for each gate they touch with their body, boat or paddle. Furthermore, the racer’s entire head must cross an imaginary line between each set of poles.

Gates negotiated in the wrong direction, including upside down, or missed gates incur a 50-second penalty.

Athletes get two timed race runs down the whitewater slalom course. The racer’s raw time plus any penalties are added together, and the two runs are combined for overall results.

The four whitewater slalom Olympic classes include:

• K1W - Women’s Kayak

• K1 - Men’s Kayak

• C1 - Men’s Single Canoe

• C2 - Men’s Double Canoe

At first glance, it may be tough to distinguish the difference between the decked racing canoes and the kayaks. Kayakers sit in their boats and use a double bladed paddle, while canoeists kneel in the boat and use a single-bladed canoe paddle.

– courtesy Davey Hearn