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History of our sport

Canoe Slalom on whitewater started on 11 September 1932 in Switzerland. The sport’s inventor proclaimed “Slalom is a whitewater test” and his idea came from skiing, where the key terms change from “winter, snow and Ski Slalom” to “summer, water and Canoe Slalom.”


Unfortunately World War II began just six years after the first Canoe Slalom competition was held in Switzerland and the development of the sport was set back, particularly in its Olympic progression. Once the war was over, the first Canoe Slalom World Championships, under the patronage of the International Canoe Federation (ICF), was organised in 1949 in Geneva, Switzerland.

From this date it is possible to divide the history of Canoe Slalom into three periods: from 1949 - 1972, from 1972 - 1992 and 1992 onwards.


The first period is characterised by dramatic changes. Folding and rigid canvas canoes were replaced with fibreglass reinforced plastic boats at championship events. Great Britain had its first World Champion when Paul Farrant won the men’s K1 World Title in 1959.

1972 – 1992

The second important period was filled with changing and simplifying slalom rules as well as with hopes and dreams of slalom becoming an Olympic sport again. This time too, brought dramatic changes in boat construction.

Canoe Slalom made its debut at the Olympic Games in 1972 with the course at Augsburg in Germany still used for International competition today. Unfortunately after 1972, Canoe Slalom did not return to the Olympic programme until 1992. During the late 1970’s and 1980’s Great Britain became the dominant force in Canoe Slalom with multiple medallists and the 1983 World Championships remains Britain’s most successful Worlds in Canoe Slalom with 3 Golds, 2 Silvers and 2 Bronzes won.

1992 Onwards

The third period began with the reintroduction of Canoe Slalom at the 1992 Olympic Games. This was another period of changes to the slalom rules: the penalty and the two run system were changed. It was around this time that Canoe Slalom saw a massive increase of interest outside of its traditional home of Europe and North America to all other continents. During this period Canoe Slalom in Great Britain has continued to be successful at International level and domestically with Gareth Marriot winning silver in mens C1 slalom at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Traditionally Canoe Slalom has taken place on natural rivers, but since 1992 there has been a number of purpose built artificial sites created for competitive events .Almost all major internationals now take place on artificial sites. Great Britain has four International standard whitewater courses; Lee Valley Whitewater Course ( 2010), Cardiff Whitewater Course (2010), Holme Pierrepont Whitewater Course (1986)and Teesside Whitewater Course (1995).

Lee Valley Construction

Lee Valley White Water Course in Construction 2010


David Mitchell, British slalom champion.