The Lee Valley Whitewater centre new Olympic canoe slalom venue

The wonderful new Olympic venue between Waltham Cross and Waltham Abbey is a most incredible development in our sport. Back in the days when the Holme Pierrepont artificial slalom course in Nottingham opened in 1986 we have longed for a World Class venue in the London & South East area of the UK. The World’s top elite slalom paddlers have descended upon this purpose built new venue for the Olympic test event last year and to train on the course ahead of this month’s Olympics. The course was also used as the selection venue for the 3 races which made up the Great Britain team selection race in April.

We are proud that the Lee Valley course was the first newly constructed Olympic venue for London2012 to be completed. Princess Royal officially opened the £31 million venue on December 9th, 2010. The Olympic course is 300 metres long and fed from a 10,000 square metre enclosed lake. The 5 massive pumps bring water to the top of the course, which then descends 13,000 litres of water per second, with a drop of 5.5 metres, a slope of 1.8% and enough to fill a 25m swimming pool in 30 seconds. The water is slightly chlorinated and filtered so the water is clear, which in itself is an unique experience.

David Florence & Richard Hounslow negotiating the whitewater as part of the Great Britain Olympic team selection races at Lee Valley (photo courtesy of Michael Barnett)

The first Olympic artificial slalom course was built for the Munich Olympics in 1972 and locally named the Eiskanal (Ice Canal) in Augsburg. The now common circular course design, meaning the start and finish are approximately in the same area of the site was then developed for La Seu d’Urgell for the Barcelona Olympics, Penrith White Water course for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, the Heleniko Whitewater stadium, Athens in 2004 and Shunyi, Beijing in 2008. The Lee Valley also has the great canoe lift which enables paddlers and white water rafts to travel on a large conveyor belt back to the start of the course. There are now other artifical courses in the UK, notably Cardiff which was used last month for the ICF World Cup race 1. The standard of the whitewater increases each time and on recently revisiting the Nottingham Holme Pierrepont course I was shocked at how tame it now appears. There is a proposed course for the Rio Olympics in 2016. These modern artificial slalom course are made of a concrete channel in which obstacles are bolted underwater to create the required turbulence.

Construction of the Lee Valley Olympic canoe slalom course

Many of the ex-Olympic competitors who are now coaches and team managers have themselves not yet been able to compete on this excellent white water. In September 2012, the course will again open to the public subject to a paddler competence to safely paddle on the two courses. I will be in the line. For the 5 days of the Olympic games itself there will be 12,000 spectator stadium seating, which is now installed. Post Olympics the site, which is considered the best in the world, will host the 2015 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships.

More details will follow in subsequent posts on how to get to the venue, what to expect at the Olympic race events. I am pleased too that, Michael Barnett ( is now supplying me with excellent photos to add a new dimension to this blog. I will also interview Michael on his tips to taking excellent canoe slalom photographs. Tomorrow’s post will answer a question raised on the relevance of my title ‘Punters Guide to Form’.

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