A record 36 nations competing in the extreme canoe slalom competition at the recent Junior and U23 Canoe Slalom World Championships underlined the meteroric growth in the sport across the globe.
Yeah, you read it right—extreme canoe slalom. We had similar questions you probably have right now. What makes it extreme? “The biggest difference [between extreme canoe slalom and regular slalom] is the races are head-to-head, with up to four paddlers on the water at once. The paddlers are also allowed to make contact, they have to do a compulsory Eskimo roll, and they use traditional plastic creek boats, which are different to the fiberglass canoes and kayaks they use in slalom,” says ICF’s Ross Solly.
Despite still being a new sport on the canoe slalom program, extreme canoe slalom once again showed it has a bright future as an international event. Four different nations won gold – interestingly France and the Czech Republic, who dominated the traditional events, were not among the gold medalists on Sunday.
Instead it was Brazil, USA, Great Britain and Russia who stood on top of the podium in an event some onlookers have described as dodgem’ cars on water.
“After the Rio Olympics we introduced extreme canoe slalom onto our world cup program because athletes told us they wanted more competition and more chances to represent their countries,” says ICF canoe slalom technical committee chair Jean-michel Prono.
“After initially just a handful of athletes and countries taking part, the number has grown incredibly as people realize what an exciting and challenging discipline it is. I have no doubt we will see a fantastic turn out for our extreme canoe slalom world championships in Prague in September. The passion shown by our best junior and U23 paddlers on Sunday shows it is very much a sport for the future.”
France, with seven, went home with the most gold medals from the 2019 championships, but the Czech Republic proved to be the most consistent country across the board, scooping up six gold and 18 medals in total. By contrast France won 11 medals.
“Once again France and the Czech Republic have shown they have enormous depth in canoe slalom across all disciplines, but countries like Italy, Spain, Slovenia and Great Britain are quickly catching up,” Prono says.
The new sport has ultimately brought about new opportunities for all competitors. “But I think what was most pleasing for us as a sport was the emergence of countries which traditionally have not been as strong in slalom. The United States, New Zealand and Russia all had a very good championship. And then there are countries like Nepal, Algeria, Mexico and Latvia which are still very much finding their way in this sport, but showed the enormous growth potential of canoe slalom around the world,” says Prono.
The 2020 ICF junior and U23 canoe slalom world championships will be held in Ljubljana, Slovenia.