The Ultimate Test of Skill
Speed, strength and mental toughness are important attributes of an elite Slalom Canoeist. The challenge is to make their way down a whitewater river, precisely navigating through a series of ‘gates’ put in place to test their skills. However, these are not the only obstacles – rocks, water size and speed also play a crucial part in the race.
The Race Against Time
The ultimate race is against the clock. The time taken to paddle from start to finish gives the competitors their total time. However, a two second penalty is awarded for touching a gate and a 50 second penalty for missing a gate. There are so many variables that an athlete must negotiate whilst racing down the river, that it truly does make for a competitive and exciting sport.
An Explanation of Canoe Slalom Canoe Slalom is intended to test precision and speed in paddling skills by creating a course of gates to act as obstacles other than the water features. A Slalom race is held over a section of river approximately 300-400m long. The 18-25 ‘gates’ are set in position creating a ‘course’ down the river. A "gate" is two poles, suspended over the water. Red and white striped gates must be negotiated upstream and green and white striped gates are negotiated in a downstream direction.
The fact that competitors don't get to paddle the specific gate combination until the race run means athletes have to use mental imagery to simulate negotiating the course. As a result of this reliance on visualisation, slalom has been described as chess on water. Interestingly, paddlers are able to predict the length of the courses by simulating it during imagery within a fraction of a second over almost two minutes. Research has shown that you can predict finish position in a World Cup race by how an athlete performs on a test of visualisation ability (see Here). Recent research has seen how exactly paddlers employ imagery in their canoe-slalom preparation (See here).
Techniques of Canoe Slalom
In slalom boats paddlers use a variety of strokes (see here for videos
) to maneouvre their boats as quickly as possible down the course. They tend to use strokes that are positive (i.e., few reverse strokes) with a vertical paddle shaft (to maximise efficiency). Interestingly, play boating evolved out of innovations in slalom boat design by Davey Hearn and Jon Lugbill who created boats that were so low volume that they could pivot or do 'enders'-hence, a new discipline called freestyle developed and took this to another extreme.
History of Canoe Slalom
Canoe Slalom was re-introduced into the Olympics in 1992 and since this time has been growing in popularity world-wide. The history of Slalom dates back to 1932 in Switzerland, where the inventor of the sport announced "Slalom is a whitewater test." The idea came from skiing, with the concept of "Winter, snow and Ski Slalom" being turned into "Summer, water and Canoe Slalom".
Slalom began as a flatwater discipline, but the excitement of natural fast-flowing rivers soon changed the sport into a test of skill on whitewater. Over time, as interest in the sport started to flourish, technology enabled the construction of artificial courses such as the Penrith Whitewater Stadium, which was used for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and the 2004 Olympic Course in Athens.
K = Kayak (Athletes in sitting position and using double blade paddle)
C = Canoe (Athletes in kneeling position and using single blade paddle)
Individual Events: Men: K1, C1 and C2
The Canoe Slalom Season
The Season usually begins with selection for the national Team, in which athletes must compete in a series of races (in recent years they have been abroad). A small number of races are held in Ireland annually, typically at Shawsbridge in Novemeber, and on the Liffey in Newbridge.
Athletes on the Irish Team have the opportunity to compete in the international season against competitors from around the world, including France, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, America, Canada and Great Britain. In fact, most countries have athletes competing at international Canoe Slalom events. Being an Olympic discipline, paddlers have the chance to compete in slalom at the Games since 1992. Since then, we have been represented at every Olympiad and can boast a fifth place for Ian Wiley in Atlanta and an 11th place for Eadeoin Ni Challarain in Sydney (see here for full list of Irish Olympians
). Eoin Rheinish, a competitor in Athens has already qualified a place in Beijing for an Irish Mens kayak. It is hoped that we will also have a paddler in the Womens kayak class in 2008.
The international season involves a series of World Cup races that begin around June and run throughout the European summer. Each year, with the exception of Olympic years, the season culminates with the World Championships - the most important and prestigious race for the world’s best athletes.
Typical Training Session
Paddlers across the World do a large variety of training sessions but one old favourite is probably used by all paddlers at some stage. Developed by former US coach Bill Endicott FIVE ON FIVE is a technique session used to develop skill, speed and mental toughness all in one.
5 runs on 5 different slalom courses
Courses comprise 3-6 gates on moving water or whitewater depending on the time of year.
Paddlers have a work: rest ratio of 1:4 so for a 30 second course they have 2 minutes recovery.
The intensity is usually very high but it can vary if a paddler is just focusing on key strokes. The goal of the workout is to develop particular skills-the gate sequence can emphasize these (e.g., upstreams). Usually a stopwatch is used and video may be a useful addition too.
In terms of simulating the actual race conditions each effort can comprise a third or a quarter of a full-length run. Variations include doing split runs-dividing a full-run into 1/3s or 1/4's and taking rest after completion of each section. Also you can force paddles to do the course backwards or C1 style to increase the difficulty. It is a fun workout because the speed and thrills of white-water are performed but the fatigue index is low so quality can be maintained. A great starter session to develop basic technique for all!
World Championship Competitors
The World Championships take place every year, except for the year of the Olympic Games. World Championships attract a larger number of competitors and nations than World Cup events, making for a more exciting competition. During Non-Olympic years, World Champion is the most coveted title in Slalom Canoeing. Therefore, World Championships attract the highest calibre athletes from all across the globe. Around 400 athletes from 80 nations will take part in the World Championships competition.
Physical Preparation for Canoe-Slalom by Jimmy Jayes. See here.
Videos & Techniques for Canoe -slalom for beginners and advanced. See Here.