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CR4 Olympic Coverage: Building Whitewater

Posted July 18, 2012 10:08 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: olympics Olympics 2012

It's the only Olympic sport that gets you as wet as swimming, and there aren't any attractive lifeguards to save you. It will be just you and 460 cubic feet of water per second!

Nope, none of this at the Olympics! ..via Seriously OMG

Its canoe slalom, and its making its sixth consecutive Olympic Games appearance after a 20 year absence. The event doesn't always garner a lot of attention, more than likely because most people have the following in mind when they hear the word "canoe."

...via All Posters

But a more accurate depiction of canoe slalom is as such:

...via Zimbio

It's a sport of concentration, perseverance, and physical strength. While it's called canoe slalom, it also encapsulates kayaks; The main difference being canoes have a seated kneeled rider with a one-sided paddle, and kayaks have a kneeled seated rower with a two-sided paddle. No matter your vehicle, it's about technique and using the advantages of your canoe or kayak to maintain the maximum edge.

Real quick…

The athletes race individually on a course of whitewater rapids, and in modern competitions these rapids are manmade courses consisting of pumps and whitewater obstacles. Simply, the paddlers race through suspended gates which are color coded. Green gates must be passed going downstream, while red gates must be passed while paddling upstream.

Watch a little French video about kayak slalom.

Times are kept, and if the gate is hit by any part of the athlete or boat, a two second penalty is assessed. 50 second penalties are given for severe gate disruption, missing a gate completely, or going through upside down. Olympic and other international events will have athletes make two runs and add those times to determine who qualifies for finals. After two more runs, the athlete with the best time is the winner.

...via ICE Virtual Library

Considering the intensity of triathlons and meticulous rules of sports like judo, whitewater slalom events are rather straight-forward.

The boats…

Both canoes and kayaks must be decked (covered hull), and there are strict limits as to the size and weight of the boats as designated by the International Canoe Federation (yes, that's a real thing.)

Kayaks must have a minimum length of 3.5 m, and a minimum width of .6 m. Their minimum weight, when dry, must not be less than 9 kg. There are two types of eligible canoes. For single-rower canoe events, the canoe restrictions are 3.5 m long, .65 m wide, and weigh at least 10 kg. For tandem-rower canoes, the minimum dimensions are 4.1 m long, .75 wide, and 15 kg.

Many canoes and kayaks are produced underweight, so rowers may add ballasts to the boat center to meet requirements. The ICF even regulates the radius of the boat ends: 2 cm horizontally, and 1 cm vertically.

Considering all whitewater kayaks and canoes weigh about 19.8 lbs. and 33 lbs., respectively, modern whitewater boats have come a long way from the 65 lb. fiberglass boats of the 1960s. Kevlar was introduced as a boat-building material in the '70s, and the rules of whitewater slalom have always had to play catch-up with newer, sleeker designs. Today, most boats are produced in layers of carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass, and foam, which are held together with epoxy and polyester resins. The result of this convoluted construction? A kayak or canoe north of USD $2,000. Yup.

That's quite literally, "a boatload of money."

...via Visual Photos

The course…

The 2012 Olympics will hold their whitewater slalom events at the Lee Valley White Water Center. It's a new venue, but since its opening in December 2010 cheeky Brits have been raving about its design. The Olympic course is 300 meters long, with a 1.8% gradient. An accompanying pump station pushes 460 cubic feet of water per second along the slalom course.

One of the major difficulties in planning a slalom course is the fluid dynamics of the water, flowing at such a high rate and through tight turns. Engineers initially built a 1/10 scale model of the Lee Valley White Water Center.

...via ICE Virtual Library

Still, a newly-innovated modular design was necessary so the course could be fine-tuned. This will also allow Olympic organizers to change the course enough that the home-team limeys don't have a distinct advantage in competition. Plastic obstacles imitate rocks, providing the turbulence for whitewater conditions. These obstacles have a mobile, pegboard-like base plate which allows for subtle changes in the course design. Rearranging the course is as simple as shutting the pumps off, and taking a few hand tools to the slalom.

...via Ice Virtual Library

The gold medal goes to…

Me. Duh.

I just assembled another great article on the Olympics. And you get silver for reading.

In seriousness, I think the 2012 Olympics will benefit greatly from the resources and engineering the people of the England have offered the world. I hope it actually pays off in a medal or two for them. In whitewater slalom events, Great Britain ranks 27th all-time.


Visit Lee Valley - Lee Valley White Water Centre

London 2012 - Canoe Slalom; About

Wikipedia - Whitewater slalom; Canoeing and kayaking at the Summer Olympics

Yahoo! News - History of Olympic Canoe Slalom at the Summer Games

Telegraph UK -Lee Valley canoeing: a rapid lesson in being an Olympian

Institution of Civil Engineers: Delivering London 2012: the Lee Valley Whiterwater Centre


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Re: CR4 Olympic Coverage: Building Whitewater

07/18/2012 12:19 PM

Canoes have a kneeling rower and the rower in a kayak is seated.

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Re: CR4 Olympic Coverage: Building Whitewater

07/18/2012 12:31 PM

Good catch!

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Re: CR4 Olympic Coverage: Building Whitewater

07/22/2012 4:52 AM

And then, the past tense of "kneel" is "knelt" rather than "kneeled"; and "kneeling" actually fits better.

--Ed. C.

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