Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Olympic canoe sprint at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Who are the top canoe sprinters at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021? When and where will Olympic canoe and kayak flatwater races take place? What is the history of canoe sprint at the Olympics? Find out here.
By Ashlee Tulloch

Power and speed are what make canoe sprint an event not to miss at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

These two main ingredients make the kayak and canoe races explosive, as competitors battle in a straight, flat-water battle, requiring pure grit, strength, skill, and strategy.

But who are the top contenders? When will competition take place? and where will it be held?

Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic canoe sprinting.

Top Olympic canoe sprinters at Tokyo 2020

Typically, canoe sprint champions come from traditional European paddling countries.

Of the four women's events in Rio 2016, Hungary won three, while Germany claimed three of the six men’s events. But the tide may be shifting for the Tokyo Games in 2021 as up-and-coming countries such as Brazil, New Zealand, and China have been regularly making names for themselves with international podiums recently.

In the women's event, double Olympic champion Lisa Carrington is aiming for a third consecutive K1 200m gold medal. Since 2011 she is unbeaten at this distance internationally. She'll also be looking to improve on her bronze medal in the K1 500m. Carrington will race in New Zealand's K4 500m team boat as well, meaning she could have a very demanding race schedule, especially if she competes in the K2 500m too.

Five-time Olympic champion Danuta Kozak will be hoping to bounce back from a poor 2019 World Championships. The Hungarian took home a bronze medal in the K1 500, but with Carrington winning the race by nearly two boat lengths, she could have a tough competition in Tokyo.

Teenager Nevin Harrison from the USA is expected to perform well on debut in Tokyo, having won the women’s C1 200m at the 2019 World Championships. She's the first American to have won a canoe sprint world title.

In the men's events, Czech Republic star Josef Dostal is always a fan favourite and will be wanting to go one better than his Rio 2016 silver in the K1 1000m.

Great British paddlers have won back-to-back gold in the men’s K1 200m. First Ed McKeever in London 2012 and then Liam Heath at Rio 2016. Heath is favoured to defend his Olympic title after also clinching the 2019 World Championships title.

Two-time Olympic gold medallist in the men’s C1 1000m, Sebastian Brendel is expected to be a star in Tokyo. The German is also the C2 1,000m Olympic champion. With 28 international competitions wins under his belt, he is the most decorated canoe sprinter to race in Tokyo.

Olympic Canoe sprint competition format at Tokyo 2020

There are two types of crafts used in canoe sprint: kayak (K) and canoe (C). Kayak paddlers race sitting in a boat with a double-bladed paddle. Steering is done with their feet controlling a rudder. Canoe paddlers kneel, and use a paddle with a blade at one end. They also use this paddle to steer as they do not have rudders.

Between men and women there are 12 events at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021. These include kayak singles, doubles, and fours races. In canoe there are only singles and doubles races. Competitors race over three distances - 200m, 500m, and 1,000m.

The start of a canoe sprint race is dynamic and thrilling.

All boats line up and start the race at the same time. Paddlers must balance themselves in the start gate, and be completely still until the starter's signal. Then, in an instant, paddle hard to reach top speed as quickly as possible. The 200m race is the fastest race in the programme, and the men's kayak race for that distance finishes in approximately 30 seconds.

The race is held on a flatwater course and was originally known as flatwater racing.

In the semi-finals, the top eight boats progress to the ‘A’ final where medals are decided. The rest of the semi-finals field compete in the 'B' final.

Olympic Canoe sprint schedule at Tokyo 2020

The canoe sprint competition at the Olympics in Tokyo takes place over six days, from 2nd to 7th August 2021

The first medals of the games will be awarded on day 2, The women's K1- 200m.

  • Kayak Single (K-1) 200m (Men/Women)
  • Kayak Single (K-1) 1,000m (Men)
  • Kayak Single (K-1) 500m (Women)
  • Kayak Double (K-2) 1,000m (Men)
  • Kayak Double (K-2) 500m (Women)
  • Kayak Four (K-4) 500m (Men/Women)
  • Canoe Single (C-1) 1,000m (Men)
  • Canoe Single (C-1) 200m (Women)
  • Canoe Double (C-2) 1,000m (Men)
  • Canoe Double (C-2) 500m (Women)

You can find the full schedule here.

Olympic Canoe sprint venue at Tokyo 2020

The canoe sprint competition is taking place at the Sea Forest Waterway in the Tokyo Bay area.

The venue is on the waterfront and close to central Tokyo, with a maximum capacity of 12,800 for canoe sprint races. Rowing will also use the venue.

At the conclusion of the Olympics, the course will be used to host international rowing regattas and canoe competitions.

Olympic Canoe sprint history

Canoe sprint was first introduced to the Olympics an exhibition event at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

It wasn't until the 1936 Berlin Olympics that it was added to the official programme, with nine men's events. One as long as 10,000m. The longest distance today is 1,000m.

London 1948 was the first time a women's canoe/kayak event took place.

Tokyo marks the 20th time the sport has appeared in the Olympics.

Over the years various distances have been added or removed, and in the Tokyo Games, women's canoe C1 200 and C2 500 have been introduced.

Men's K4 1000 has been reduced to K4 500 while the men's C1 200 and K2 200 have been removed from the program in a bid to achieve gender equality.