For some, canoes may conjure up memories of school activity trips, dingy ponds and lost paddles. Get ready to make new memories in 2012. The professional sport of Canoe Slalom and Canoe Sprint is slick, fast and exciting. With two beautiful venues set to host the 2012 canoe events, you'll never look at canoeing in the same light.
The world's oldest canoe club, The Royal Canoe Club of London, was founded in London in 1866 and canoeing became an Olympic sport in 1936. In 2012, on 6-11 August, the setting will be quintessentially British: Eton Dorney, with Windsor Castle in the background. The course is said to be among the best still-water courses in the world (the World Rowing Junior Championships took place there as a test event on 4 August). Canoe Sprint is a head to head sport in still water, with athletes racing distances of 200 metres, 500 metres and 1,000 metres, either as singles, double or four person teams. These guys don't dawdle; the 200m race, which will debut in 2012, is completed in under 30 seconds.
Canoe Slalom is also fast, and rough. Here, paddlers make timed runs down a white water course, turning through 25 gates, just like in slalom skiing, which the sport is modelled after. While the sprint boats are long and sleek, in slalom they are smaller, lighter and more agile to allow the athletes to navigate through the rapids. (Both kinds of canoe look more like what us laypeople would call kayaks.) Since its debut in the Barcelona Games in 1992, canoe slalom has been a real spectator hit, and it's easy to see why.
The newly built Lee Valley White Water Centre, on the edge of the 1,000 acre River Lee Country Park in Hertfordshire, will host the Canoe Slalom competition from 29 July to 2 August. And it looks brilliant. There's a 300 metre competition course and a 160 metre training course. A 10,000 square metre lake provides the water for the rapids, at an astonishing rate of 15 cubic metres per second.
And the best part? The White Water Centre is already open to the public, and it's the only venue that can be used by the public before the Games. Unless you are already a proficient paddler and can pass the centre's assessment, white water rafting will be your only option but you'll still get to run the same course that will host the 2012 competitions. The centre is hosting a free activity day on Saturday 13 August if you fancy having a look; sadly it doesn't include white water rafting but there are canoe taster sessions on the programme.
No British athletes were on the podium in July's test event but we do have some contenders. David Florence, a 29 year old from Edinburgh, was a Silver medallist in slalom in Beijing, and Tim Brabants, an A&E doctor by day, won a Bronze in Sprint.
There are lots of canoe and kayak clubs who will take you out. Check out the Regents Canoe Club, who are based at City Road Basin off Regents Canal and host new member evenings once a month. There are also clubs in Putney Bridge, Tower Hamlets, Chiswick, Stoke Newington and Battersea, among others. They all offer different intro sessions and training. If you prefer your paddling indoors, have a look at the Y Paddle Club, who are based at the YMCA on Great Russell Street.
Visit www.canoe-england.org.uk for more information.
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