London 2012: Canoeing
Tell me about Canoeing:
Believe it or not, canoeing and kayaking have been a competition sport in the Summer Olympic Games since the 1936 Games in Berlin. There two disciplines to canoeing: slalom and sprint.
In slalom, competitors must maneuver their boat through 20-25 gates in turbulent water over a 300-meter course. The key to slalom is to finish in the shortest possible time without getting points deducted for gates touched or missed.
Alternatively, the sprint discipline features longer boats and athletes competing either solo or in teams of two or four. Unlike in slalom, competitors race on still water and can be seen kneeling on one knee with single-bladed paddles or sitting using double-sided paddles.
In order to increase excitement in the sport, canoe sprint officials replaced the men’s 500 meters with the 200-meter race. Now races will only last about 30 seconds. At that rate, competitors are paddling at up to 180 strokes a minute!
What is the difference between canoeing and kayaking?
Other than the obvious difference in the appearance of the boats, canoeing and kayaking actually require unique skill sets. As a sport, canoeing is much more difficult and muscular-based. Kayaking, on the other hand, requires less balance and muscular buildup. Canoe races feature either one or two canoers whereas kayak races can have either one, two or four kayakers.
International competitors to watch:
Traditional Olympic powers like the United States, China, and Russia are largely non-factors in the canoeing and kayaking fields. With only 16 medals, the United States has a long ways to go before they are ranked at the top with the likes of Hungary with its 71 medals. This year, Peter and Pavol Hochschorner of Slovakia are looking to win an unprecedented fourth consecutive Olympic title in whitewater slalom. Great Britain hopes for big things from Ed McKeever, cleverly nicknamed “Usain Bolt on Water”. Germany has a good shot at gold as well, as it adds 10-time world champion Katrin Wagner-Augustin to the mix in women’s canoeing.
American athletes to watch:
Eric Hurd and Jeff Larimer are a second-generation canoeing team. Their fathers trained together in the 1990s. Hurd and Larimer have a tough task in front of them as they attempt to beat the Hochschorners.
Originally a gymnast, Caroline Johnson switched to kayaking at age 13 after a broken arm kept her out of gymnastics. Her road to elite athletics has not been easy. Johnson was delayed from competing internationally when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2003. Less than a year after diagnosis, however Johnson was back in the water and competed in the Athens Olympics, finishing 10th in two different kayak races. Johnson did not advance to the finals in Beijing and will look to rectify that result this summer.
Talk like an Olympian – Terms to Know:
Five-Meter Rule – a rule that states that boats cannot come within five meters of one another during a race
Ride the Wash – when an athlete positions the boat in the wake of another boat in such a way that the boat rides along or drafts off of the first boat (however, this is illegal!)
River Left – refers to the water on the left side of the paddler’s boat as the athlete races downstream