Canoe sprint

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Heat 3 of the Men's K-1 200m at the 2016 Olympic Games

Canoe sprint is a water sport in which athletes race in specially designed canoes or kayaks on calm water over a short distance. The sport is governed over by the International Canoe Federation and it is one of the two kayaking and canoeing disciplines at the Summer Olympics. The other Olympic canoeing discipline is canoe slalom.

Prior to November 2008, canoe sprint was known as flatwater racing.


The Scottish traveller, John "Rob Roy" MacGregor, is widely recognised for popularising competitive canoeing during the late 19th century. Against the backdrop of Victorian society's growing interest in outdoors activities such as camping and pleasure boating,[1] MacGregor's weekly accounts of his journey through the waterways of Europe became immensely popular. [2]

John MacGregor paddles through the small German town of Tuttlingen

Upon his return to England he authored A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, a popular, and would inspire others to try the sport. In 1866 he founded The Canoe Club, the world's first canoe club. This marked start of canoe clubs emerging on both sides of the Atlantic, promoting the organization for regatta and contributing to the establishment of formal notional bodies to define the rules of the sport.[3] MacGregor, for example, would go on to found the American Canoe Association in 1880.

The sport's growing popularity in the early 1900s prompted the need for international structure. In 1924, the predecessor of the International Canoe Federation, the Internationale Repräsentantenschaft Kanusport, was formed by German, Austrian and Swedish delegates at a meeting hosted by the Danish Canoe Federation [dk]. [4] That laid the foundation for international competitions, including a canoeing demonstration event at the 1924 Olympic games. In 1933, the inaugural European championships were held in Prague. The International Olympic Committee had rejected applications for the inclusion of canoeing in the 1928 and 1932 Olympic Games due to the limited number of proposed participating nations. The application to the 1936 Olympic games faced a different challenge, with an initial rejection in 1933. Spearheading this decision was the president of the FISA, who expressed concern that an influx of small crafts would compromise the freedom of rowers on lakes and waterways.[5] The IRK, however, successfully appealed this decision in 1934, leaning to the inclusion of canoeing as an Olympic sport starting from the 1936 Olympic Games. The first world championships took place in 1938 in Vaxholm. notably, the 1948 Olympic Games were the first instancce wehre women were allowed to compete in canoeing at an Olympic level, albeit in only one discipline, as opposed to eight available to men. Since the first international competitions, there has been a noticeable trend of reducing the race distances. As 10km was scrapped, 500m and 200m were introduced.


Canoe sprint races typically take place on flatwater courses, including lakes, calm rivers, or artificial waterways. 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. The distances recognized by the ICF for international canoe sprint races are 200m, 500m, and 1000m. These races take place on straight courses with each boat paddling in its own designated lane. They are also the only distances to have featured at the Olympic games since 1960. The ICF currently recognizes only one additional sprint distance, the 5000m, which diverges from traditional lane-based racing. Instead, athletes tend to start in a large pack, navigating a set course with distinct turning points. For each race a number of heats, semi-finals and finals may be necessary, depending on the number of competitors.

The official boats recognized by the ICF as 'International Boats' are: K1, K2, K4, C1, C2 and C4, where the number indicates the size of the crew and “K” stands for kayak and “C” for canoe.[6] The ICF rules for these boats define, among other things, the maximum length, the minimum weight and the shape of the boats. A K1, for instance, must be 520 cm long and weigh at least 12 kg for sprints. Originally, width (beam) restrictions were also enforced; these were revoked in 2000, spurring a flurry of innovations in boat designs. Modern boats are usually made of carbon fiber, aramid fiber (e.g., Kevlar) with epoxy resin, or variants of high-performance fiber-glass.

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.

On the whole, Europe has dominated the sport, winning over 90% of all available medals.[7]


In a kayak, the paddler is seated in the direction of travel, and uses a double-bladed paddle. Kayaks have a rudder for steering and course adjustment, which is operated by the feet of the paddler in the front. The paddle used is usually a 'wing paddle' (although standard asymmetrical paddles can also be used) – wing paddles have blades which are shaped to resemble a wing or spoon, creating lift and increasing the power and stability of the stroke. There are many variations of wing paddles, ranging from longer and narrower options for more stability throughout the entire stroke to more extreme 'teardrop' shaped paddles for a firmer application of power at the start of the stroke.


In a canoe the paddler kneels on one knee with the other leg forward and foot flat on the floor of the boat, and paddles a single-bladed paddle on one side only with what is known as a 'J-stroke' to control the boat's direction.[8] 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, commonly 12–14 degrees. (a concept of canoe designer Eugene Jensen in the 1960s). Many high-performance canoe paddlers prefer the feel of a wooden handle with a carbon fiber shaft and blade, while nearly all high-performance kayak paddlers use paddles made completely of carbon fiber.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gartner, Emily (23 May 2019). "Camping in Victorian times". Dalnavert Museum. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  2. ^ Wenham, Simon (12 May 2020). "John 'Rob Roy' MacGregor (1825-1892): Explorer, Evangelist and Philanthropist". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  3. ^ McKenzie, Don; Mortimer, Ian (2019). Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science: Canoeing (PDF). John Wiley & Sons. p. 3. ISBN 9781119097228.
  4. ^ Berkeley, Jeff (19 January 2024). "How Denmark set stage for formation of ICF". The International Canoe Federation. Retrieved 27 January 2024.
  5. ^ McKenzie, Don; Mortimer, Ian (2019). Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science: Canoeing (PDF). John Wiley & Sons. p. 7. ISBN 9781119097228.
  6. ^ "Canoe Sprint". International Canoe Federation. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
  7. ^ "What is sprint?". Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  8. ^ "Canoe sprint". ICF. Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2014.