The International Canoe Federation is one step closer to adding extreme canoe slalom to the Olympic program after a virtual board meeting on Tuesday. The ICF Board voted to include men’s and women’s extreme slalom on its proposal for the Paris 2024 canoe program as it strives to continue to innovate and to deal with a reduction of Olympic quota places. Extreme slalom is a relatively new discipline to canoe, but it’s thrilling head-to-head format has attracted new fans and strong television ratings since its introduction to the ICF world cups and world championship programmes. The addition of the new discipline on the Olympic schedule would not require any extra athlete quotas, with many of the canoe slalom competitors likely to also contest the extreme competition.

International Canoe Federation

I’ve seen a lot of debate on this over the past few days and it’s an interesting conundrum, (Of which I’m on neither side).

ICF - Extreme Slalom
ICF – Extreme Slalom

Having worked within a Sprint set up I have upmost respect for the level of training and commitment they put in. The same also goes to slalom athletes. As Olympic disciplines it’s no secret this is where the money is focused but it’s also remembered that if you aren’t at medal contention level then you aren’t getting paid you are still training day in day out and working a full time job.

The Olympic dream is one that we all share and yes something in me says I would love to see Whitewater actively represented at the Olympics but is Extreme Slalom the correct format certainly not.

The biggest problem I can see is that canoeing is loosing quota (people actually in boats) so extreme slalom is using all the same slalom athletes to take part in this new discipline.

From what I can see is they are trying to make the best of a bad situation, building pumped whitewater stadiums is rarely cost effective unless they have well thought out legacy plans. And by increasing the activity at the stadium makes it look better value for money.

As a sport extreme slalom doesn’t and can’t really exist in this format, I believe it to be more of an exhibition. If more quota was allocated the we could have a separate discipline but it wouldn’t be this,

I work with a large team of whitewater athletes and very few of them stand a chance on a simple artificial course where power is key. Look at the progression of sickline placing top slalom paddlers and whitewater paddlers against the clock on a class 5 whitewater it led to some Interesting results but required a much more rounded athlete with a broad skillset.

If more quota was magically found and this became and actual discipline how many whitewater paddlers would really want to become a high performance extreme slalom athlete?

Your job is to paddle down a slalom course very fast…. Personally it doesn’t sound entertaining. Most whitewater kayakers have a mindset that they love to explore and paddle all over the world but within many countries this just wouldn’t be possible.

Would a Olympic level athlete be allowed to head off to Pakistan and run first décents on unrun rapids. I would think the governing body and money givers would quickly tell you no way as the injury risk is too high. So you become an extreme kayaker wrapped in cotton wool and produced at each event to do your job.

People are asking why not freestyle, well simply because it involves different people who are not already competing, this involves extra funding and extra boat spaces which are simply not available currently.

In the future yes increase quota and give us our own extreme kayaking discipline that’s already in place. Let’s use natural rivers for timed extreme racing, think Sickline, KOTA, Green Race, North Fork and let us really race it out. At this point the argument would be which discipline to add. Freestyle could have a shout, polo of course, even WWR all utilising existing facilities.

But for the moment the proposals I’ve seen don’t look as well conceived as they could be.

Yes I would love to see Jackson Kayaks racing at the Olympics but not in this format, tag it on as an exhibition until such time you can secure increased quota.

Personal opinion – please don’t bite my head off but please correct me if I missed something or got it completely wrong.

(Won’t event get into the debate about it being called “extreme” slalom).

Words: Adrian Durrant