The Differences Between the Olympic Canoe and Kayak Events

Olympische Sommerspiele London 2012
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In Olympic events, it can be tricky to figure out the difference between canoe and kayak events. Sure, traditionally speaking, people could figure out the difference between kayaks and canoes just by looking at the boats. Kayaks tend to be decked boats that paddlers sit inside of and canoes have raised seats for canoeists to sit on. Of course, the differences can be far greater than that. It’s quite common nowadays for canoes to look like kayaks and vice versa.

So, it can be difficult for the untrained eye to readily identify whether an Olympic event is a canoe or kayak event. The uninitiated can also have a tough time figuring out what the different events mean. Below are some of the best ways to tell the difference between a canoe event, a kayak event, a slalom event, and a sprint event which will surely help when watching Olympic canoeing events. 

What’s the Difference Between Olympic Canoe and Olympic Kayak?

  1. The first difference is really the easiest one. It actually requires looking at the paddle. Kayaks are propelled with a paddle that has two blades, one on each side of the shaft. Canoe paddles have only one blade. There is a handle at one end of a canoe paddle and a blade at the other.
  2. In the Slalom whitewater Olympic Canoe/Kayak events, another way to tell the difference between a canoe event and a kayak event is to look inside the boat if the paddler is not in it. Kayaks have seats in the bottom of them. Canoes have a place to kneel inside of the canoe.
  1. Along those same lines, slalom kayaks are paddled when sitting down with the legs stretched out front into the kayak. Slalom canoes are actually paddled while kneeling in the kayak. Since the paddlers are wearing spray skirts, it might not be readily identifiable whether the paddler is kneeling or sitting. A canoeist’s body will be higher over the boat as he or she will be kneeling while the sitting kayaker will actually sit lower in the boat.
  1. The other types of Olympic Canoe/Kayak events are known as Flatwater or Sprint Events. As in the slalom events, sprint kayakers also sit inside of their kayaks. However, sprint canoeists do not fully kneel as they do in slalom events. Canoeists in the flatwater events kneel on one knee and have one foot out in front of them for support.
  2. Canoe events are labeled “C” and kayak events are labeled “K” in OIympic programs, standings charts, and when reporting results.

What’s the Difference Between the Slalom and the Flatwater Events?

  1. The main difference between Olympic Slalom and Olympic Sprint Canoe/Kayak events is really rather simple. Slalom events take place in whitewater. Sprint or Flatwater events are in flat water.
  2. Another difference is that slalom events involve the canoeist or kayaker to paddle on a winding course through hanging gates. They must go upstream through some gates and downstream through others. All the while they will lose points if touching any gate. The sprint event is just that, a sprint race that is straight down a course with no turns.
  3. Slalom events are timed events where paddlers go through a course one at a time and times are compared afterward. Sprint or flatwater events are also timed but they are actual races with other boats at the same time.
  1. In slalom events paddlers where spray skirts to keep the whitewater out of their kayaks. No spray skirts are worn in the sprint events.
  2. The most people that will be in a single boat during a slalom race is two. There can be up to four people in each boat in sprint races.