Canoe/Kayak at the Tokyo Games will comprise 16 medal events, four in the slalom (whitewater) discipline, and 12 in the sprint (flatwater) discipline:

  • Men’s K-1 Slalom
  • Men’s C-1 Slalom
  • Women’s K-1 Slalom
  • Women’s C-1 Slalom
  • Men’s K-1 200m Sprint
  • Men’s K-1 1000m Sprint
  • Men’s K-2 1000m Sprint
  • Men’s K-4 500m Sprint
  • Men’s C-1 1000m Sprint
  • Men’s C-2 1000m Sprint
  • Women’s K-1 200m Sprint
  • Women’s K-1 500m Sprint
  • Women’s K-2 500m Sprint
  • Women’s K-4 500m Sprint
  • Women’s C-1 200m Sprint
  • Women’s C-2 500m Sprint

In the above list, “C” stands for “Canoe” and “K” stands for “Kayak.” Canoes are propelled by athletes using a single-bladed paddle in a high-kneeling position. Kayak racers are seated and use a double-bladed paddle while steering with a foot-controlled rudder.

Sprint events are contested with multiple competitors racing on flat water over a straight, pre-determined distance. Slalom events involve individual athletes negotiating gates while paddling down a course in whitewater rapids.

European nations dominate canoe/kayak, with France (18) and Hungary (80) leading the slalom and sprint all-time medal standings, respectively.

Slalom

Overview

The sport features two types of boats: canoes (C-1) and kayaks (K-1). Canoers paddle on one side of the boat but can switch sides, while kayakers constantly paddle on both sides of the boat with two-sided cup-shaped paddles.

Tokyo will feature four events (two for men, two for women). Following the 2016 Rio Games, the men’s C-2 event was replaced by the women’s C-1.

  • Men’s K-1
  • Men’s C-1
  • Women’s K-1
  • Women’s C-1

Each NOC can qualify a maximum of one boat per event.

In canoe slalom, competitors navigate a whitewater slalom course. The course includes two types of gates. Green and white gates must be negotiated from a downstream direction – forward, reverse or sideways – and red and white gates must be negotiated in an upstream direction. Competitors are penalized if they miss a gate, touch a gate, or pass through it in the wrong direction.

The sport will take place over six days with four events. Each athlete goes down the course individually, but it is possible that two competitors will be on the course at the same time (one competitor may be finishing as another is starting). At the 2019 World Championships, there was a 1-minute interval between boats in the heats, a 2-minute interval between boats in the semifinal, and a 3-minute interval between boats in the final. Although the Olympics will likely use similar timing intervals, those intervals have not been announced.

Timing/Course Set-Up

The canoe slalom course in Tokyo is approximately 200 meters long. It is currently undecided how many gates will be on the course. Gates can be altered to increase difficulty from heats to semifinals, but not from semifinals to finals.

Canoe slalom athletes are ranked based on time. The clock starts when the athlete leaves the start line, and ends when the athlete’s body crosses the finish line.

Top athletes typically take between 90 to 115 seconds to complete the course. Competitors are penalized if they miss a gate, touch a gate, or pass through it in the wrong direction. Touching a gate adds two seconds to a competitor’s final time, while missing a gate is an addition of 50 seconds.

Progression and Starting Order
Heats – Semifinals – Final

  • Heats: The competition begins with heats. Athletes can take two runs of the course, with their fastest time counting. If an athlete is satisfied with their time after run 1, they may decide not to take a second run.
  • Semifinal: One run
  • Final: One run

Number of Athletes Progressing

Event Heats Semis Final
Men’s K-1 24 20 10
Women’s K-1
Men’s C-1 17 15
Women’s C-1

Start Order

Heat Athletes start in reverse order of their ICF world ranking (highest ranked athlete starts last)
Semifinal Reverse order of rank in the heat
Final Reverse order of rank in semifinal

Tiebreaking

Ties in the heats: if two or more athletes receive the same time in their best of two runs, the lower result of the other run resolves the tie. If not resolved after this, the athlete with the higher ICF ranking will receive the higher rank heading into the semifinal.

Ties in the semifinal round: the athlete with the higher ICF ranking will receive the higher ranking.

Ties in the final are not broken. If necessary, multiple medals of the same color will be awarded.

Sprint

Overview

Canoe sprint takes place on a flatwater course with athletes facing forward towards the finish line (as opposed to rowing where athletes travel backwards). The two disciplines are canoe and kayak labeled with a “C” and a “K” respectively, followed by the number of athletes each boat. (For example, K-4 would be a kayak with four athletes.)

Tokyo will mark the debut of women’s canoeing (previously, women only competed in the kayaking events).

A canoe sprint course has eight lanes, meaning up to eight boats can compete in each heat.

Tokyo will feature 12 events (six for men, six for women):

  • Men’s K-1 200m
  • Men’s K-1 1000m
  • Men’s K-2 1000m
  • Men’s K-4 500m*
  • Men’s C-1 1000m
  • Men’s C-2 1000m
  • Women’s K-1 200m
  • Women’s K-1 500m
  • Women’s K-2 500m
  • Women’s K-4 500m
  • Women’s C-1 200m*
  • Women’s C-2 500m*

Competition Progression

Canoe sprint introduced new qualifying procedures for Tokyo and while each event has a certain number of boat quota places, the number of quota places may change based on the overall athlete quota limit and the reallocation of places. As a result, the final number of boats in each Olympic event likely won’t be known until July 2020. The following table includes how progression will work based on the number of boats entered in each event.

Please note that in the column labeled “Progression from Heats,” a semi-colon marks an explanation about the next phase in the competition, e.g. quarterfinal (QF) explanation; semifinal (SF) explanation.

Number of Boats Number of Progression from Heats Progression from Semifinal(s)
Heats Semis Finals
Up to 8 1 (A) N/A N/A
9-10 2 1 1 (A) Heats: 1-2 to A Final, rest to semifinal 1st-4th to A final, rest are out
11 2 (+1 QF) 2 1 (A) Heats: 1-2 to semifinal, rest to quarterfinal; Quarterfinal: 1-6 to semifinals, rest out 1st-4th to A final, rest are out
12 2 (+1 QF) 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-2 to semifinal, rest to quarterfinal; Quarterfinal: 1-6 to semifinals, rest to B final 1st-4th to A final, rest to B final
13-14 2 (+2 QFs) 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-2 to semifinal, rest to quarterfinals; Quarterfinals: 1-3 to semifinals, rest to B final 1st-4th to A final, 5th-6th to B final
15-16 3 (+2 QFs 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-2 to semifinals, rest to quarterfinals; Quarterfinals: 1-3 to semifinals, rest to B final; 1-4 to A final, rest to B final 1st-4th to A final, rest to B final
17 3 (+1 QF) 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-3 to semifinals, rest to quarterfinal; Quarterfinal: 1-5 to semifinals, 5 to B final, rest out 1st-4th to A final, rest to B final
18-19 3 (+1 QF) 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-2 to semifinal, rest to quarterfinal; Quarterfinal: 1-4 to semifinal, 5 to B final, rest out; 1-4 to A final, rest to B final 1st-4th to A final, rest to B final
20-24 4 (+2 QFs) 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-2 to semifinals, rest to quarterfinals; Quarterfinals: 1-4 to semifinal, rest out 1st-4th to A final, rest to B final
25-34 5 (+3 QFs) 2 2 (A/B) Heats: 1-2 to SFs, rest to quarterfinals; Quarterfinals: 1-2 to semifinals, rest out 1st-4th to A final, rest to B final

Timing Overview

M K-1 200m: Medalists = ~33.38, slower boats = ~37.15
M K-1 1000m: Medalists = ~3:21.89, slower boats = ~3:50.94
M K-2 1000m: Medalists = ~3:04.94, slower boats = ~3:45.31
M K-4 500m: Medalists =~1:17.73, slower boats = ~1:27.20
M C-1 100m: Medalists = ~3:42.38, slower boats = ~5:04.52
M C-2 100m: Medalists = ~3:25.04, slower boats = ~3:53.03
W K-1 200m: Medalists = ~37.89, slower boats = ~44.35
W K-1 500m: Medalists = ~1:46.46, slower boats = ~2:06.90
W K-2 500m: Medalists = ~1:37.07, slower boats = ~1:50.98
W K-4 500m: Medalists = ~1:28.21, slower boats = ~1:44.79
W C-1 200m: Medalists = ~44.50, slower boats = ~50.30
W C-2 500m: Medalists = ~2:00.73, slower boats = ~2:12.37

More information:

Official Tokyo site – Canoe/Kayak

American Canoe Association

International Canoe Federation