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  • Canoeing can be traced back to the North American Indians, who used these single-paddle craft as a means of transport and for fishing. Later, the Inuit of Greenland also perfected a lightweight craft.

  • Canoeing did not became a sport until 1866 with the founding of the Royal Canoe Club in Surrey, England by Rob Roy McGregor.

  • In 1936 it became an Olympic sport for flat-water racing. Later , other forms of canoe racing (wild-water, slalom and long distance) became popular.


  • There are several disciplines in canoe competitions. Some competitions are purposely held on rough waters, such as slalom and wild water racing. The sprits and marathon are held on flat water.

  • Marathons are held on open rivers and England stages the longest in the world, the 120-mile long Devizes to Westminster, which covers almost the entire length of the river Thames. The race sets off on one day and finishes the next, passing through many lock gates, around which competitors have to lift their craft.


  • There are several sorts and sizes of canoe, for individual of several canoeists. Canoeists wear a spray deck, which seals the water out of the cockpit. The paddle for the single competitor has a blade at each end so it can be placed in the water on either side of the craft to propel it in a straight line.

  • Safety is a major factor in slalom and wild-water racing, and competitors must wear a crash helmet, plus a life jacket, and waterproof clothing. They must have passed a capsizing test and be able to swim.


  • Slalom and wild-water racing are against the clock. In slalom runs, several ‘gates’ have to be negotiated, often requiring tight turns and skill by competitors. ‘Gates’ are two poles hanging down from a wire. The competitor must keep red and white pole to port (left) and green and white to starboard (right).

  • In slalom, if a competitor falls out of the canoe they are disqualified. In wild-water competition, they may carry on provided they get back into the canoe without assistance.


  • Birgit Schmidt, born in Brandenburg, Germany, in 1962, is the most successful woman canoeist. Since 1980 she has won eight Olympic gold medals and a further 19 gold medals at world championships.

  • America, strangely enough, had to wait 36 years for Olympic gold medals when Gregory Barton, born in Jackson, Michigan, 1959, won two events in the 1988 Olympics with Norman Bellingham. Barton also won bronze in 1984 and 1992. What was more remarkable is that the overcame the handicap of being born with club feet and no calf muscles to become America’s best racing canoeist.


  • In a feat unlikely to be repeated, Richard Grant and Ernest Lassey completed the longest unaided canoe journey, lasting from 22 September 1930 to 15 August 1931, circumnavigating the eastern USA via Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, New York and the Great Lakes.

  • Gert Fredriksson, also known as ‘kayak king', remains one of least known gold Olympic medallists. Between 1948-1960, he won four Olympic gold medals.

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