Beijing Olympics Canoe and Kayak Open Thread

Use this thread to discuss the whitewater and flatwater canoeing and kayaking competition at the Olympics–first televised finals were broadcast early on Tuesday, August 12 for men’s C-1 and K-1 whitewater. Here’s the official link to the canoe and kayak page on the olympics website.

The course is 280 meters in length and drops 5.2 meters. Could someone with reliable math skills (not my strong suit) please convert that to feet per mile and compare it to some of our whitewater streams in the eastern U.S.?

I wish I could post video of the games, but YouTube has locked out privately produced Olympic footage for copyright reasons. But don’t forget to check CBC in addition to NBC for Olympic coverage–as of today, the poor Canadians still haven’t won any medals, but they’re doing a nice job of covering the games.

8 responses to “Beijing Olympics Canoe and Kayak Open Thread

  1. That’s a busy little manmade whitewater course. In fact, several paddlers have said it’s by far the most difficult in the world. Here’s the story of how it was built. This site has numerous photos of the course, and this one has fewer but better photos. Once the gates were set, all of the teams were barred from paddling on the course until competition time.

    The New York Times article calls the rapids “Class V and VI,” but the VI is definitely a misnomer and the V probably is too. The course looks kind of like the Ocoee or the Lower Gauley but with all of the flatwater spliced out. The gates are about 12 feet wide, so the lines are pretty tight, but the danger to life and limb that goes with Class V paddling is missing–no sieves, no keeper hydraulics, and rescue is only footsteps away. Here the real danger is that the paddler will lose seconds while having to brace or lay on the back deck or touch a gate after a squirrely wave or eddy line grabs his boat.

    I remember watching the games in Australia in 2000 where there were some patches of green water and the holes weren’t too big. Not this one–take a look at that monster hole in the middle part of the course with the green gate just to river left. Another one called the Dragon’s Mouth has an upstream gate in it.

    The 2000 men’s teams were muscling the Australia course, but they can’t muscle this one, so they’ve had to rely on finesse and paddle like (wait for it) girls!

  2. Just watched the Men’s K-1 whitewater slalom finals on CBC at 11 a.m. Even the announcers were commenting on how important finesse paddling technique has been for the winners, particularly which side of the boat the paddle blade is on as the paddler enters the gate. And I saw way more duffeks and draws from the guys than I’m used to seeing, which keeps the paddle blade in the water while lining up the boat for the next move. When Scott Shipley won the Silver in 2000, he’d come screaming into the red (upstream) gates at top speed, slow down almost to a stall on the eddy turn, and peel out with muscle power instead of using momentum and the current to move the boat. All the men were doing it that way, making up seconds on the flatwater stretches of the course where muscle power equals speed. But the Beijing course just won’t allow this; paddlers HAVE to work with the current because there’s so little green water.

    Silvan Pobiraj, head coach of the U.S. team agreed, and said athletes would be challenged very differently from past two Olympics. “Speed and strength will be less important than good boat control,” Pobiraj said.

  3. I ‘m always struck by the microsecond differences between gold, silver, and bronze. In whitewater, shaving times this close is virtually meaningless because manmade whitewater courses add a significant component of luck to the pure skill ethic of the Olympics.

    Here’s why: a course with that much water volume crammed into a manmade channel is going to have invisible hydraulic pulses and pauses in addition to the usual drops, waves, holes, and eddies. If you hit one of these pulses while you’re trying to follow a line, it might help you, or it might knock you off balance, but there’s no way to predict it. If a hypothetical next guy with your exact body composition ran the course on the exact same line as you and made the exact same paddle strokes, he might experience completely different conditions and have a significantly slower or faster time.

    This is way different from, say, swimming competition–it would be like telling the swimmers, “we’re going to sneak up on you and squirt you with an underwater jacuzzi jet at a random time during your swim (so random that WE don’t know when it will happen), and it might push you back, it might propel you forward, or we might not squirt you at all.” Or think of beach volleyball in random 30 mph wind gusts. This element of unpredictability, even in a tightly controlled setting like the Olympics, gives moving water its mystical quality and makes whitewater boaters crack jokes (only half jokingly) about the “river gods.”

    The 280 meter, semi-circular course has more of a drop than previous Olympic venues and the numerous artificial obstacles make the swirling waters unpredictable and nearly impossible to master. “The water changes so much that every time you come down, it’s different, it’s new water and the water flows differently,” Slovakia’s Michal Martikan, a three-times Olympics singles canoe medalist said.

    Martikan ended up taking the gold medal in the Men’s C-1 competition even though he touched one gate. The Beijing course is so difficult that touch penalties are expected even among the best paddlers, particularly in C-1 where boat control is even more challenging than K-1.

  4. Just watched the Men’s K-1 Whitewater again on NBC. Benjamin Boukpeti’s bronze medal-winning run was a thing of beauty, more so because Togo has never won any Olympic medal before. They don’t even have any whitewater in their country; they’re known for their soccer teams, for pete’s sake. Boukpeti is 5’9″, 169 lbs with most of his weight in the shoulders. He finessed the entire course from start to finish like Moses invisibly parting the Red Sea. When you do it right, it’s like a little ditch opens up just in front of your bow and you just follow it to the finish line. As a result, Boukpeti spent less time laying on the back deck trying to get stable than either of the other medalists, despite their faster times.

    I just LOVED it when he broke his paddle in half over the bow of his boat after he finished because he was so happy to take home his country’s first medal ever. In the interview afterward he said in his French accent: “It’s hard for me to get fired up for ze games because I am not a competitor. I take pleasure on ze water . . . I want to go out on ze water again right now.” Those two broken paddle halves need to be enshrined in the whitewater hall of fame.

  5. I can’t find any reliable whitewater coverage on Dish Network after you get home from working the dayshift. Same thing happened in previous olympics, especially Atlanta. 😦

    You are lucky.

    BTW, the course translates roughly into 98 feet per mile and I didn’t cheat I did my own math. There are 1,624 meters in an English mile and the 5.2 meter drop converts into 16.9 feet. The course is 0.1724137 miles long so voila! 98 fpm.

    The photos I’ve been able to see remind me of a Gauley release on the East Race. What they lack in length they made up for with volume. Love to know the CFS…


  6. Multiple sources on the net list the minimum flow at 12 cubic liters per second, with a maximum of 18. Another source listed it at 2.8 cubic meters per second. (Conversion to cubic feet needed.) These numbers seem quite low to me, but the dynamics for manmade courses are different than for natural rivers. Let’s see what the Math Wizard says.

  7. Again, roughly translates into 961 cfs. That’s a pretty darn good flow in a small stream. That’s like Slippery Rock at 5′ on the gauge. At 98 fpm you would have to tilt the Slip a little more from its present 25 fpm. Yahoo!


  8. Thanks Jay. 961cfs is a very impressive volume in a constricted watercourse.

    The Slip starts grabbing at your stern around 3 feet. I’ve never seen it at 5 feet, but I’ve heard it’s intimidating. Triple the gradient and you have the Beijing course–my o my.

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