Olympics 2008: Canoe and Kayak Racing in China

As with Hockey, canoe and kayak racing is a sport that is several thousand years old. At this time canoes were used for travelling, fishing and hunting, especially by the aborigines of North and South America. The oldest scientific find is dated back to ca. 4000 BC. Interestingly hat the American Indians call a ‘canoe’, means for the Eskimos a ‘kayak’.

Canoe and kayak racing became an Olympic sport in 1936 in the Berlin games and has proved to be very popular ever since then. The most distinctive differences between canoes and kayaks is the seating position and paddle.
In a canoe, the sportsman kneels on one leg and propels the boat by means of a one-sided paddle. In a kayak, the sportsman sits with his legs stretched out and uses a double paddle. Another difference is that the canoe is open to the sky while kayaks have a closed ‘roof’. While women compete with each other only in kayaks, men hold competitions in both.

There are two different kinds of competition at the Olympic Games. When (Flatwater) racing the athletes compete with each other on calm water. Each competitor has his own track. In contrary the slalom, which wasn’t introduced until the Munich games in 1972, athletes have to navigate a 300 m long route through turbulent waters.
China cannot look back on a particularly exciting history in canoe racing. The most successful athletes come from Europe, especially from Germany, Sweden and the former Soviet Union. China won its first and only gold in its Olympic history in Athens 2004: Meng Guanliang and Yang Wenjun in Men’s Canadian pairs over 500m.
As they have done in many other sports, Chinese athletes have made enormous progress in canoe/ kayak-racing within the last few decades. They had their strongest appearance at the Asian Games in Doha 2006. Where China won six of a possible ten gold medals. Star Liu Haitao won in the kayak for both the 500m single as well as the1000m single.

However, nobody can currently foresee how strong the Chinese team will prove to be at the Games in their own country in 2008. Provided the development will continue to improve to the extent it has during the last few years, then the Chinese athletes may well rank themselves with confidence among the favourites for 2008.

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