In whitewater slalom, athletes have to navigate their canoe or kayak through gates as they work their way through 300m of whitewater rapids in the fastest time possible. Hitting one of the hanging gates or missing one completely results in time penalties which are added to the paddler’s time at the end of his or her run. A 2-second penalty is given for a touched gate, and if the gate is missed completely there is a 50-second penalty. There are approximately 18-24 hanging gates for each course. The gates are color-coded to indicate which direction the paddler must pass through. Green gates are negotiated heading downstream while red gates require the paddler to reverse direction and pass through them heading upstream.
Male athletes compete in three classes: Kayak (K1), Single Canoe (C1) and Double Canoe (C2). Women compete in kayak (K1W).
Whitewater Slalom made its debut during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany and did not reappear until the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Although many whitewater slalom events are still held on natural river courses, there are an increasing number of artificial whitewater courses being constructed and used for international competition around the world. The United States National Whitewater Center (http://www.usnwc.org), located outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, is the nation’s first fully artificial whitewater course. A training site for many athletes, the U.S. National Whitewater Center was the official site of the 2008 Olympic Team Trials for whitewater slalom.
Slalom boats have benefited greatly from advancements in technology. They are now lighter, sleeker, and faster. Made from carbon, kevlar and epoxy resin, they are light and stiff but still fragile compared to plastic boats. All slalom boats must meet minimum length and weight requirements. Kayaks have to weigh more than 9 kg (about 20 pounds), be more than 3.5 m (11 feet) long, and 60cm (around 2 feet) wide.