Canoe sprint is a sport in which athletes race boats on calm water. Officially canoe sprint is a blanket term for both canoe racing and kayak racing.
Race categories vary by the number of athletes in the boat, the length of the course, and whether the boat is a canoe or kayak. Canoe sprint is sometimes referred to as flatwater racing. Canoe sprint takes place on a straight course divided in lanes, on calm water. The distances recognised by the ICF for international races are 200 m, 500 m, and 1000 m. Each boat has its own designated lane, except for races over more than 1000 m, where there also may be turning points. ICF recognised races over 1000m include the 5000m and 10000m events. For each race a number of heats, semi-finals and a final may be necessary, depending on the number of competitors.
The sport is governed by the International Canoe Federation. The International Canoe Federation is the worldwide canoeing organization and creates the standard rules for the different disciplines of canoe/kayak competition. The ICF recognizes several competitive and non-competitive disciplines of canoeing, of which Sprint and Slalom are the only two competing in the Olympic games. National organisations include the United States Canoe Association, the British Canoe Union, Singapore Canoe Federation, Croatian Canoe Federation, Australian Canoeing, and the Pakistan Canoe and Kayak Federation.
On the whole, Europe has dominated the sport, winning over 90 per cent of all available medals.
The official boats recognised by the ICF as 'International Boats' are: K1, K2, K4, C1, C2 and C4, where the number indicates the number of paddlers, “K” stands for kayak and “C” for Canadian or canoe, depending on location. The ICF rules for these boats define, among others, the maximum length, the minimum weight and the shape of the boats. For example, by ICF rules, a K1 is at most 520 cm long, and weighs at least 8 kg for marathons or 12 kg for sprints. In 2000, after the Olympic Games in Sydney, the ICF withdrew width restrictions on all boats, spurring a flurry of innovations in boat designs. Modern boats are usually made of carbon fiber and/or aramid fiber (e.g., Kevlar) with epoxy resin.
In a kayak, the paddler is seated in the direction of travel, and uses a double-bladed paddle. Kayaks have a rudder, which is operated by the feet of the paddler in the front. For kayaks so-called wing paddles are generally used, the blades of which are shaped to resemble a wing or spoon. The wing blade has undergone many evolutions in the past two decades, evolving from a flatter blade to one with a more pronounced curve to better catch the water.
In a canoe the paddler kneels on one knee with the other leg forward and foot flat on the floor inside the boat, and paddles a single-bladed paddle on one side only. In Canada, a racing class exists for the C-15 or WC or "War Canoe", as well as a similarly designed C-4 (which is much shorter and more squat than an 'International' C-4). An antiquated boat class is the C-7, resembling a large C4 which was debuted by the ICF with little success. For racing canoes, the blade is typically short and broad, with a 'power face' on one side that is either flat or scalloped out. The shaft will typically be longer than a tripping canoe paddle, because the kneeling position puts the paddler higher above the surface of the water. More recent designs of canoe racing paddles often have a slight bent shaft (a concept of Gene Jensen in the 1950s) but not to the degree used in marathon paddles. Many high-performance canoe paddlers prefer the feel of a carbon-fibre shaft mated to a wooden blade, while nearly all high-performance kayak paddlers use paddles made completely of carbon fiber.