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Canoe/Kayak 101: Olympic history

© 1936 / International Olympic Committee (IOC)

Canoe/Kayak 101: Olympic history

Learn more on the history of Olympic canoe/kayak.

Berlin, 1936: Canoe/kayak made its Olympic debut as a medal sport with nine sprint events, including five 10,000m races. The Canadian Olympic Committee refused to pay Francis Amyot's way to the Games, but that didn't stop him from going. In the C1 1000m event, he took an early lead before being passed by Bohuslav Karlik of Czechoslovakia at the 750-meter mark. A 31-year-old veteran, Amyot burst past Karlik with just 50 meters to go, winning Canada's only gold medal in any sport at the Games.

London, 1948: The competition was headlined by Sweden's Gert Fredriksson, who took the grueling K1 10,000m title and the next day won the K1 1000m by a resounding 6.7 seconds. Fredriksson repeated as K1 1000m champion in 1952 and 1956, and added a bronze in his pet event in 1960. Between 1948 and 1960, no one was better in a kayak than Fredriksson, who won eight medals overall, including six gold medals. Also in London, women's canoe/kayak made its Olympic debut, and Denmark's Karen Hoff won the K1 500m race.

Helsinki, 1952: Bill Havens of Arlington, Va., would have been a member of the U.S. men's eight boat that won gold in rowing at the 1924 Olympics in Paris had he not chosen to stay home with his wife, who gave birth to their child shortly after the Games ended. Havens often questioned his decision, but 28 years later, he knew he made the right choice when he received a telegram from Helsinki that read, "Dear dad, thanks for waiting for me to be born. I'm coming home with the gold medal you should have won." His son, Frank, won the C1 10,000m.

Melbourne, 1956: Just prior to the Olympics, Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary to crush an anti-Communist revolt. Tension between the two countries was high and accounted for their competitiveness in Melbourne. The Soviet Union and Hungary combined to win more than half the canoe/kayak medals awarded at the Games, claiming seven each. Romanian paddlers won the most gold medals (three).

Rome, 1960: For the first time since 1948, the men's K1 1000m gold medal went to someone not named Gert Fredriksson. In an event he dominated, the 40-year-old Swede finished third (a fellow Scandinavian, Denmark's Erik Hansen won gold). But, in the final race of his Olympic career, Fredriksson teamed with Sven-Olov Sjodelius to win gold in the K2 1000m. The victory gave Fredriksson his sixth gold medal and eighth Olympic medal overall. He returned to the Olympics in 1964 as coach of the Swedish team.

Tokyo, 1964: Francine Fox, a 15-year-old American, became the youngest athlete to win a canoe/kayak medal in the Olympics when she and her partner, 35-year-old Glorianne Perrier, finished second to Germany in the women's K2 500m final. Elsewhere, the men's K1 1000m event saw Rolf Peterson, a 22-year-old student from Halmstead, Sweden, edge co-favorites Mihaly Hesz of Hungary and Romania's Aurel Vernescu, the reigning world champion.

Mexico City, 1968: Mihaly Hesz of Hungary was in fifth place at the halfway mark of the men's K1 1000m final but made his move with just 200 meters to go. He passed 1960 Olympic champion Erik Hansen of Denmark and Soviet Aleksander Shaparenko, the reigning world champion, in the last 100 meters to win the gold medal. Hesz later married swimmer Andrea Gyarmati, who won silver and bronze at the 1972 Games. Gyarmati is the daughter of five-time Olympic water polo medalist Dezso Gyarmati and swimmer Eva Szekely, who won gold and silver in the 200m breaststroke at the 1952 and 1956 Games, respectively.

Munich, 1972: The West Germans, hoping to give their athletes an advantage in slalom's Olympic coming-out party, spent $4 million constructing an artificial river for the 1972 Munich Games. But a year before the Games, the East Germans visited the facility and created a duplicate course back home. The effort paid off in gold -- all four, in fact, for the taking on Munich's slalom program. Jamie McEwan, a Yale undergraduate, gave the U.S. its first slalom medal, a men's C1 bronze.

Montreal, 1976: These Games were the first to include men's 500m events in canoe/kayak. In the C1 500m final, an upset was in the making as a partisan crowd of 5000 cheered on Canada's John Wood. Wood, from the very start, enjoyed a lead over the Soviet favorite, Aleksandr Rogov, but was overtaken by Rogov in the last few strokes and finished runner-up by .35 of a second. Even less time -- .02 of a second -- separated Wood from bronze medallist Matija Ljubek of Yugoslavia.

Moscow, 1980: Birgit Fischer, an 18-year-old East German, cruised to victory in the women's K-1 500m, becoming the youngest winner of an Olympic canoe/kayak event. Fischer, who went on to amass seven career gold medals, is the most prolific paddler in canoe/kayak history. For single-Games supremacy, though, no one has topped the 1980 effort of Soviet Vladimir Parfenovich, a 21-year-old from Belarus, who won gold in the men's K1 500m, K2 500m and K2 1000m.

Los Angeles, 1984: Ian Ferguson retired after a seventh-place finish in the K1 500m at the 1980 Moscow Games. But when the New Zealand Sports Federation offered improved support for its kayakers, Ferguson decided to leave his video-game distribution and repair business in Auckland and returned to the water. In Los Angeles, at age 32, he won gold in the K1 500m, K2 500m and K4 1000m; Ferguson and Vladimir Parfenovich (1980) are the only athletes to win three canoe/kayak events at one Olympics.

Seoul, 1988: America's Greg Barton, born with two club feet, won a pair of kayaking gold medals on the same afternoon. In the K1 1000m final, he started slowly, climbed to second halfway through, and crossed the finish line in what appeared to be second place, behind Australia's Grant Davies. But after an officials' review, Barton was declared the victor by .01 of a second. Just 90 minutes later, Barton teamed with Norman Bellingham to win the K2 1000m by the relatively comfortable margin of .29 of a second. It was the first time the U.S. won Olympic gold in sprint kayaking.

Barcelona, 1992: Following a 20-year hiatus, slalom events returned to the Olympics. There, 31-year-old American Jon Lugbill, who dominated the sport for more than a decade, was the overwhelming favorite in men's C1. But he brushed gate 23 with his shoulder on his first run, incurring a five-point penalty that proved to be the difference between first and fourth. The U.S. did get slalom gold when Scott Strausbaugh and Joe Jacobi put together two penalty-free runs in the C2. Also, Dana Chladek became the first American woman to win a slalom medal (bronze, K1).

Barcelona, 1992: Competing as one nation for the first time since 1964, Germany dominated the Barcelona sprint competition, winning nine of the 36 medals. German paddlers took six of the 12 gold medals, two silvers and a bronze. Also, Bulgaria's Nikolai Bukhalov became the first athlete to win the C1 500m and 1000m at the same Olympics.

Atlanta, 1996: The Atlanta sprint competition saw Germany's Birgit Fischer add two medals to her collection -- gold in the K4 500m and silver in the K2 500m -- increasing her career tally to eight. Italy's Antonio Rossi won a pair of gold medals, in men's K2 1000m and men's K1 500m, and Martin Doktor of the Czech Republic became the second athlete to win both C1 events at the same Games.

Atlanta, 1996: Competitors from four countries won the four slalom events in Atlanta, and three countries -- the Czech Republic, Germany and France -- each finished with three medals. Slovakia's Michal Martikan became the youngest slalom medallist in Olympic history, winning C1 gold at the age of 17 years, 70 days. To salute its young hero, Slovakia put Martikan on a postage stamp. Czech Stepanka Hilgertova won the first of two consecutive gold medals in women's K1. American Dana Chladek, born in the former Czechoslovakia, was the host nation's only medallist, taking silver in women's K1.

Sydney, 2000: Slovakian twins Pavel and Peter Hochschorner entered the men's C2 in Sydney with several victories and the 1999 World Cup overall title. But they figured to be challenged by Frenchmen Frank Adisson and Wilfrid Forgues -- known together as Harrison Ford, because of how their surnames were pronounced. The most successful duo of the 1990s and the defending Olympic champions, Adisson and Forgue posted the fastest first run, but missed a gate in the second run. They dropped to seventh, and the twins won gold by a comfortable margin.

Sydney, 2000: Norway's Knut Holmann won his second consecutive gold medal in the K1 1000m, giving him five career Olympic medals and the title of Norway's most decorated summer Olympian. One day later, Holmann claimed his second gold of the Games, in the K1 500m. In the men's K4 1000m, Hungary edged Germany to reverse the 1-2 finishes from the 1992 and 1996 Olympics in that event.

Sydney, 2000: The clear favorite after dominating the women's K1 circuit following her gold medal run in Atlanta, Stepanka Hilgertova of the Czech Republic was sternly tested in Sydney by France's Brigitte Guibal. However, a sizzling second run enabled Hilgertova to become slalom's first two-time Olympic champion. She also replaced herself as the oldest woman, at 32 years, 161 days, to win slalom gold.

Sydney, 2000: The Games are the fifth for Birgit Fischer, who seized her opportunity to become canoe/kayak's most decorated Olympian. First, she claimed her ninth career Olympic medal by helping Germany win the K4 500m. The victory pushed Fischer past Sweden's Gert Fredriksson for the most career medals. A day later, high winds delayed the start of the K2 500m final, but after a six-hour wait, Fischer teamed with Katrin Wagner to win her seventh career gold and 10th medal overall.

Athens, 2004: Birgit Fischer, who made her Olympic debut at age 18 in Moscow, retired following the Sydney Games. But three years later, and at the age of 42, she returned to the water and continued to haul in medals in her sixth Games appearance. This time, Fischer earned her eighth career gold by leading Germany passed Hungary in the women's K4 500m final, becoming the first woman to win Olympic medals 24 years apart. Fischer, who teamed with Carolin Leonhardt in the K2 500m final, was denied a ninth gold by Hungary, but the silver pushed her career medal count to 12.

Athens, 2004: Spain's David Cal surged ahead of the most dominant man in his sport to take gold in the men's C1 1000m event. Andreas Dittmer of Germany, the defending gold medallist and three-time defending world champion, led just out of the start. But Cal passed the 32-year-old Dittmer and pulled out to nearly a one-second lead at the halfway mark and the 21-year-old Spaniard did not fade.

Athens, 2004: Swedes Markus Oscarsson and Henrik Nilsson won gold in the men's K2 1000m event, improving upon their silver in Sydney. Italians Antonio Rossi and Benjamino Bonomi, the defending Olympic champions, finished second, less than 0.05 seconds ahead of the Norwegian squad, whose third-place finish gave Eirik Veraas Larsen his second medal of the Games. Larsen won gold in the men's K1 1000m.

Beijing, 2008: Belarusians Andrei Bahdanovich and Aliaksandr Bahdanovich won Belarus its first ever canoe/kayak gold medal by winning the men's C2 1000m in Beijing.  Benjamin Boukpeti scored Togo its first Olympic medal in any sport by claiming bronze in the K1 slalom event.  Germany led the medal table with eight total, including three gold, two silver and three bronze.

London, 2012: Lisa Carrington of New Zealand won gold in the inaugural women's 200-meter K1 sprint, denying Hungarian kayaker Natasa Douchey-Janics a fourth Olympic title. Great Britain's Ed McKeever lived up to his nickname of "Usain Bolt on water" and won gold in the first ever Olympic men's K1 200m final. Ukraine's Yuri Cheban won gold in the C1 200m to add to his bronze from Beijing, and Russia's Yury Postrigay and Alexander Dyachenko blew away the field to take victory in the men's K2 200m in the most comprehensive win of the day.

London, 2012: It was all about the British men in the C2 slalom final as Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott crossed the finish line with a time of 106.41 seconds claiming gold. The silver medal was awarded to David Florence and Richard Hounslow who crossed the finish line just over three-tenths of a second past their fellow British teammates Ballie and Stott.

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