What are the rules for Olympic canoe and kayak races?

The Paris Olympic Games feature 16 canoeing events under two primary disciplines: canoe slalom and canoe sprint. The kayak cross event also makes its debut at the Paris Games.

Here's a guide on how scoring works for the canoeing events at the Olympics.

How do you win an Olympic canoeing race?

The first boat to cross the finish line without any penalties is the winner of the race. To clear the finish line, the bow of the canoe or the kayak must cross the line, which is marked by a pair of red flags on either side of the course.

How does the start work?

Olympic races use a mechanical starting gate, which is anchored to the lane buoy cables and floats underwater. To begin a race, the starter says, "Start within ten seconds," and those words are followed by a sound from the starting system. If a competitor starts to paddle after the voice signal but before the sound signal, the athlete is given a warning and all competitors start again. Two false starts by the same boat results in a disqualification.

What is the five-meter rule in Olympic canoeing?

To prevent boats from riding each other's wakes, a boat may not come within five meters of a boat next to it. If this occurs, the course umpire, who is following the competitors in a motorboat, gives the boat in violation a red flag. The competition committee then decides whether the boat should be disqualified. Accordingly, a boat that fails to stay in its lane is disqualified.

If a boat capsizes, its competitor or crew is disqualified.

What are Olympic canoeing disqualification rules?

A boat may be disqualified for any of the following reasons:

  • Team member changes: Team members cannot be changed once the competition has started. Start lists are fixed once the competition begins, regardless of illness or injury. If an athlete cannot participate he/she will be disqualified.
  • Arriving late: A boat arrives after the official start time
  • False starts: A boat causes two false starts
  • Breaking the five-meter rule rule
  • Using an underweight boat

What is the 50-second penalty in canoe slalom?

In canoe slalom, touching a gate adds a penalty of two seconds to the competitor's race time, while missing the gate entirely brings about the 50-second penalty, which adds a crippling 50 seconds to the time. Other actions that can bring on this penalty include touching the gate without correct negotiation, intentionally pushing a gate or displacing a gate by 45 degrees.

As competitors paddle down the course, they must negotiate a series of 18 to 25 gates that are strategically placed throughout, similar to a slalom course in alpine skiing. Of the 18 to 25 gates, a minimum of six are marked as upstream gates, requiring paddlers to negotiate them in an upstream direction. The remaining gates are to be negotiated in a downstream direction.

Each gate is marked numerically, and a competitor must go through the gates in the order they are marked. Gates consist of two suspended poles, measuring between 1.4 and 4 meters in width. A competitor can identify if the gate is an upstream or downstream gate by its color: Green and white-striped delineate downstream gates and red and white-striped gates delineate upstream.

Total Score

The total score in canoe slalom is calculated by combining the total running time and the penalty seconds. The competitor with the lowest score wins.