2016 Olympic Canoe / Kayak in Rio de Janeiro

All About the Olympic Canoe Slalom and Sprint Events

Tony Estanguet wins the gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Canoe/Kayak C-1 Slalom event.
Tony Estanguet (middle) of France wins the gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Canoe/Kayak C-1 Slalom event. The silver medal was won by Slovakia's Michal Martikan (left) and the bronze medal was taken by Germany's Stefan Pfannmoeller. © by Clive Mason / Getty Images

Even though it’s been 4 years since the 2012 London Olympics and a full 8 years since the Beijing Games, in a lot of ways those events seem like yesterday.  Well, its time again to get excited for another eventful summer of fast times, feats of strength, and some amazing paddling.  While everyone anxiously awaits competitions in track and field, basketball, swimming, and gymnastics, paddlers look forward to another season of Olympic Canoe/Kayak.

 In these 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics over 300 canoe and kayak paddlers will compete in 16 events.

First, Some Basics about Olympic Canoe / Kayak

All of the paddlesports are grouped together under either the name Canoe or Canoe/Kayak.  In either case, both canoeing and kayaking are included in this designation of canoe.  Rowing is not a paddlesport and therefore not included in this designation. Events are designated by a letter and a number. The letter, either “C” or “K,” refers to a canoe event or a kayak event.  The number indicates how many people are in the boat.  So, a K-1 event means that the competition is for kayaks with one person in the boat.

There are two other designations that go intoclassifying the events.  First, and most obviously there are both men’s and women’s events.  Both women and men participate in kayak events.  Only men compete in canoeing events.  The other designation is that there are actually two completely different sports that fall under the designation of Canoe or Canoe/Kayak.

 They are Slalom and Flatwater which is sometimes referred to as Sprint.

The 2016 Rio Olympic Canoe /Kayak Slalom Events

The Olympic Canoe Slalom events will be held from August 7 to August 11. In Olympic Canoe, slalom paddling involves navigating a whitewater course while trying to paddle through red and green hanging polls called gates throughout the timed run.

Green gates must be paddled through in the direction of travel. To go through the red gates the paddlers actually pass the gate and swing around and paddle through from the back side of the gate.  It takes much skill, technique, and strength to come to a controlled turn in the midst of raging water.  

The whitewater course in Rio de Janeiro is the newly constructed Rio Olympic Whitewater Stadium. Artificial whitewater parks utilize a combination of elevation change, water jets, and “block” placement both under water and in different places in the river to change the water flow as designed.  The 250 – 400 meter long course is located in the “X Park” and has temporary seating for the Rio Games to accommodate 8000 spectators.

There are 4 Olympic Canoe/Kayak Slalom events in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. Here is the schedule of events:

  • Men’s C-1

    • Sunday, August 7: Heats

    • Tuesday, August 9: Semifinals and Finals

  • Men’s C-2

    • Monday, August 8: Heats

    • Thursday, August 11L Semifinals and Finals

  • Men’s K-1

    • Sunday, August 7: Heats

    • Wednesday, August 10: Semifinals and Finals

  • Women’s K-1

    • Monday, August 8: Heats

    • Thursday, August 11: Semifinals and Finals

       

The 2016 Rio Olympic Canoe / Kayak Flatwater Events

The 2012 Olympic Sprint events will be held from August 15 to August 20 at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. The Lagoon is in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro and is connected to the Ocean by a canal. Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon provides a beautiful landscape in Rio, surrounded by the town and mountains. However, due to a complex set of issues such as run-off from the town, algae blooms in the lagoon, and just the narrow canal to the ocean's rejuvenating waters, there have been issues of large fish kills in the lagoon. This gives paddlers concerns for the conditions of the events. However if the Rio and Olympic authorities get the situation under control, this should be a beautiful and unique area to host the canoe/kayak races.

Olympic Canoe Flatwater events involve racing other canoes or kayaks down a straight course. These “flatwater” events are often called “sprint” events. Boats have 1, 2, or 4 people in them and races range from 200 meters to 1000 meters. The canoes and kayaks that are used are highly specialized boats that are nothing like the canoes and kayaks that are usually seen and used for recreational purposes. There are a total of 12 canoe and kayak events in the Olympics. Eight are men's competitions and four are women's events. Here is the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics Sprint schedule:

Women’s Olympic Canoe Sprint Events:

  • K-1 200 m

    • Monday, August 15: Heats and Semifinals

    • Tuesday, August 16: Finals

  • K-1 500 m

    • Wednesday, August 17: Heats and Semifinals

    • Thursday, August 18: Finals

  • K-2 500 m

    • Monday, August 15: Heats and Semifinals

    • Tuesday, August 16: Finals

  • K-4 500 m

    • Friday, August 19: Heats and Semifinals

    • Saturday, August 20: Finals

Men’s Olympic Canoe Sprint Events:

  • C-1 200 m

    • Wednesday, August 17: Heats and Semifinals

    • Thursday, August 18: Finals

  • C-1 1000 m

    • Monday, August 15: Heats and Semifinals

    • Tuesday, August 16: Finals

  • C-2 1000 m

    • Friday, August 19: Heats and Semifinals

    • Saturday, August 20: Finals

  • K-1 200 m

    • Friday, August 19: Heats and Semifinals

    • Saturday, August 20: Finals

  • K-1 1000 m

    • Monday, August 15: Heats and Semifinals

    • Tuesday, August 16: Finals

  • K-2 200 m

    • Wednesday, August 17: Heats and Semifinals

    • Thursday, August 18: Finals

  • K-2 1000 m

    • Wednesday, August 17: Heats and Semifinals

    • Thursday, August 18: Finals

  • K-4 1000 m

    • Friday, August 19: Heats and Semifinals

    • Saturday, August 20: Finals

 

Qualification for the 2016 Olympic Canoe / Kayak Events

The qualifications for the 16 Olympic Canoe / Kayak events is complex system of countries earning spots, in some cases a year prior to the Olympics. The quota and system was organized and agreed upon by the International Canoe Federation, or ICF, back in 2014. Each country has what is known as an NOC, or National Olympic Committee. NOC's can enter boats in a number of qualifying events, the largest of which is the 2015 ICF World Championship. Both Slalom or Sprint events have an ICF World Championship. This is the event in which the most Olympic spots are awarded. There are a number of regional or continental events that occur into 2016 which each qualify the remaining spots. There are rules for who can enter these events and if these regional events even qualify for a qualifying spot in the Olympics.

The key point to take away from all of this is that when an athlete for an NOC wins a qualifying spot in an event they don't actually win the spot. The NOC that they represent, wins the spot. At first this might seem unfair. Upon further inspection it actually makes a lot of sense. The 2015 ICF World Championships occur almost a year before the 2016 Olymipcs in Rio. A lot can happen in a year. Athletes can get injured between qualifying and the Olympic Games.

Better competitors could be injured and unable to compete in the qualifying events. Other circumstance can prevent the best athletes in a country from competing at the qualifing rounds. Whatever the case, all these qualifying rounds do is guarantee each country (NOC) a spot in the Games. Then it is up to the country to work out how they allocate those spots to their athletes. This ensures that each NOC, particularly the elite ones in canoe and kayak events, puts much strategy into the qualifying events to get as many spots as they can. Then, whatever shuffling happens over the course of the many months leading up to the Olympics, is just part of the lead up to the Olympics.

How the Medals Work in Olympic Canoe / Kayak

Obviously, Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded in each of the 16 canoe / kayak events, as is always the case in the Olympics. That means the medal count for NOC purposes is 48 medals. However, the actual medals awarded to athletes is really a staggering number considering most people don't even know that there is such a thing as Olympic canoeing and kayaking, let alone watch or follow it. Boats contain 1, 2, or 4 paddlers in each canoe or kayak, depending on the event. That means that by the time the canoe / kayak events are over, 81 medals will have been awarded. The next time somebody looks surprised to learn that canoeing is an Olympic event, throw that little nugget of information out there for them to digest.

And More About the 2016 Rio Games

It really is exciting that this year's Olympics are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this year for multiple reasons.  Estimates have the number at about 1 million Brazilians living in the United States.  For them, this will be an opportunity for some pride and for their heritage to be shown and to shine.  Of a practical matter, Brazil is only 1 hour time difference from the Eastern United States.  This means we'll be able to watch many of the events real time and experience the games as they happen. This was often tough to do during the Beijing Games of 2008. 

The Olympic Games is a rare occasion when the world can come together and lay aside differences. Let us hope for a safe Games that unites the world, if even for only a couple of weeks.  Let us hope for a little example to be on display of what health competition in good spirit and sportsmanship actually looks like.

In closing, stay tuned on this page for updates on the United States Canoe/Kayak team, actual times of the events and many more details that come to light as they unfold in the months leading up to the Olympic Games.