Going to Extremes: New Paris 2024 Extreme Canoe Slalom to Debut at Penrith Whitewater Stadium

Three and half years out from the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Paddle Australia is launching its Olympic Extreme Canoe Slalom campaign with the new Olympic canoeing event to premier at the Penrith Open Canoe Slalom Series which is set to kick off on the weekend.

While the Tokyo 2020+1 Australian Olympic canoe slalom team of Jessica Fox (NSW), Lucien Delfour (NSW) and Daniel Watkins (TAS), who were already selected last February, continue their preparations for the Games this year, planning is already underway for the next Olympic Games, the Summer Games at Paris in 2024.

Lucien Delfourn, Daniel Watkins, Jessica Fox – Photo JGRImages

At Paris 2024, Extreme Canoe Slalom will be featuring for the first time on the Olympic program with the new Olympic medal event only added recently.  Extreme slalom is a relatively new discipline to canoe, but its thrilling head-to-head format has attracted new fans and strong television ratings since its introduction to the International Canoe Federation (ICF) world cups and world championship programmes.

“Although it’s still a relatively new event, it was important for slalom to show that we are evolving and innovating in our sport, and this is something the IOC is very keen to see.  It provides another use for the whitewater venue, taps into a bigger kayaking audience with the plastic boats, and is an entertaining format,” dual Olympic medallist Jessica Fox said about the addition of Extreme Slalom to the Olympic program.

“There are many challenges to Extreme including rules and regulations, formats etc, and the ICF is currently in a consulting process with working groups.  For the athletes it’s physical, but also very tactical.  It will be interesting to see it evolve in the lead up to Paris now that it is an Olympic event.”

Daniel Watkins in an Extreme Slalom Event 2017 – Photo Balint Vekassy

Anticipating these changes, Paddle Australia purchased a fleet of extreme slalom boats last year and built a ramp at the Canoe Slalom National Training Centre of Excellence (NCE), in collaboration with Penrith Whitewater Stadium, which is necessary for the launch of an extreme slalom race.  The new event will now be included in a three-event Penrith Open Series with the first one scheduled to take place at the end of February (21 February, 7 and 14 March).

“We are at the pointy end of our preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but we are also looking ahead and the new Olympic quadrennial preparations are well underway.  With a new event added to the Olympic program, our partners and us have worked hard to have everything in place to be able to include Extreme Slalom to our high performance program and we are looking forward to our first competition series,” Paddle Australian National Performance Director Shaun Stephens said.

“The new discipline is also already an integral part of our planning for the upgrades of the Penrith Whitewater Stadium.  And it’s been exciting to see how everyone has been embracing the new challenge and new event.  With the ramp and new boats ready to go, we are looking forward to the first events on Australian waters over the next few weeks.”

Extreme Slalom Start Ramp

The Penrith Open Canoe Slalom series has been put together by Paddle Australia’s High Performance program in response to the current restrictions on domestic and international travel, to offer Australian paddlers smaller scaled canoe slalom events in February and March instead of the International Australian Open and Sydney International Whitewater Festival, which usually take place this time of year.

“It will be great to get back into race mode during the Penrith Open series.  At this time of year, we usually have hundreds of international athletes training in Penrith and get to compare ourselves to them with a world class race but this year we are missing that energy and international vibe as Australia closed its borders, so they are all training in Dubai, Reunion island or in their own country.  Despite the lack of international participation, it will be a good exercise for us to race and it’s important for our Tokyo preparation,” Fox said about the upcoming competition.

“I think we are all quite conscious of the fact that racing opportunities have been limited, so it’s important to make the most of these races, even if they are only domestic competitions, to solidify the work over the last few months and test anything ahead of Tokyo,” Fox added with less than six months to go to the Games.

Jessica Fox C1 - Photo credit Col Boyd
Jessica Fox C1 – Photo credit Col Boyd

Tokyo will be the first Games with gender equal events at canoe slalom after the women’s canoe event was added to the program for the first time.  And with Fox doubling up in both the women’s K1 as well as the women’s C1, she will have the chance to go for two medals come Tokyo.

For Pari 2024, the actual athlete quota will remain unchanged and selected Olympic canoe slalom paddlers are likely to be doubling up in the Extreme Slalom event.

The Penrith Open Series will include both the men’s and women’s kayaking and canoeing on Saturday and Sunday as well as the Extreme Slalom on Sunday afternoon (schedule and times to be confirmed) with Paddle Australia’s Olympic athletes expected to give it a go as well.  But for now, Tokyo is the main focus.

“I have not competed in Extreme due to the potential risks of injury and my priority has always been on the preparation for the world championships in the last few years and the focus will continue to be on Tokyo.  I’ve been practicing in plastic boats on weekends as I think it’s a good training exercise and good fun and I’ll have a go during the series, but won’t be competing in it internationally in the lead up to the Games,” Fox explained.

The Penrith Open Canoe Slalom 1 will be contested at Penrith Whitewater Stadium on 20-21 February and will be a trial event, with Penrith Open 2 to follow 6-7 March.  Penrith Open 3 concludes the series on 13-14 March and will decide the overall Canoe Slalom Penrith Open Series winner.

Extreme Slalom at PWS - Photo credit JGRImages
Extreme Slalom at PWS – Photo credit JGRImages

Adding Extreme Canoe Slalom to the Olympic program will replace two Canoe Sprint Medals (men’s and women’s K1 200) and adding two additional medal opportunities to the current four available medals at canoe slalom.  The canoe program for Paris 2024 will thus include ten canoe sprint medals as well as six at canoe slalom.

The changes to the canoeing programme for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games were finalised by the executive board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the start of the December.  As part of the ‘Olympic Agenda 2020’, the IOC had encouraged international federations to present innovative new events that could attract a new audience, but would also not require additional athletes or new venues.

The men’s and women’s extreme canoe slalom meets the Olympic Agenda 2020 criteria and also fits the IOC’s requirement for sports to strive for more value out of their venues and will be contested on the canoe slalom course, and add extra days to the slalom Olympic schedule.  The addition of the new discipline on the Olympic schedule does not require any extra athlete quotas, with many of the canoe slalom competitors likely to also contest the extreme competition.

Penrith Open Canoe Slalom Series
Dates:
Penrith Open 1           20-21 Feb
Penrith Open 2           6-7 March
Penrith Open 3           13-14 March

Penrith Open Series Event Page Click HERE

Format
There will be two runs on each day in each class (kayak and canoe) and the Extreme Slalom will be held after the slalom on the Sunday.

The winner of the canoe slalom event will be determined by the best of two runs on each day and there will be an overall Canoe Slalom Penrith Open Series winner.

About Extreme Slalom
Extreme canoe slalom is a fast paced race between four athletes on whitewater that tests their power, skill, and tactics as they tackle up and downstream gates whilst also completing an eskimo roll.

Extreme slalom first appeared on the ICF’s World Cup program in 2015 and is a combination of all canoeing’s white water disciplines, with competitors racing in identical plastic creek boats.

Combining elements of a classic slalom race with the head-to-head style of a boater-cross featuring Eskimo rolls is what inspired the Youth Olympics race format.  The extreme slalom cross attempts to infuse a more adrenaline-filled atmosphere into the traditional world of slalom.

The reace begins with four competitors dropping off a ramp more than two metres above the water and splashing onto the course as one.

From there it is a race to the first buoy, and it really is a case of anything goes as each paddler tries to steal an advantage over their opponents while navigating through several inflatable gates, as they battle to the finish.

Athletes need to negotiate both downstream and upstream buoys, and unlike in traditional slalom athletes are allowed to touch gate poles without incurring a penalty, but if a competitor misses one of these gates, they are automatically disqualified.

Kate Eckhardt (TAS) racing Extreme Slalom at the 2017 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships

At one point, athletes are given a tactical choice between navigating one of two upstream gates positioned on either side of the river.  Along the way, buoys mark the designated area where competitors must complete the compulsory eskimo roll.  Athletes only have a short window of opportunity to successfully roll their kayaks, and they need to do a complete 360 degree flip.

There are a variety of ways to get disqualified – breaking the start, missing a buoy, dangerous paddling, and failing to complete the eskimo roll within the allocated area.

Most races are over in around a minute, but times are not important.  Extreme slalom is very much a race of tactics, and often it does not pay to lead early.  Athletes also have choices to make, including which side of the course they should take.

Utilising a bracket-style format, each heat consists of four athletes with the top two finishers advancing to the next round.  The seeding for the initial heats is normally done through a grand prix time trial where athletes sprint straight down the course.  Much like a standard boater-cross, contact is permitted as long as paddlers keep their hands on their paddle at all times and do not use their paddle to purposely whack their fellow competitors.

One of the major attractions of extreme slalom is the diversity of countries taking part with athletes from regions where canoe slalom is still in its infancy embracing extreme events.

The current men’s world champion is Germany’s Stefan Hengst, while Czech Veronika Vojtova won the women’s crown in front of her home crowd in Prague.