Today we continue the theme of looking at the different roles of those that make Olympic canoe slalom a success. We focus on the role of the Judge and explain in more depth the rules of canoe slalom.
Like many aspects of the sport it too has evolved since canoe slalom reappeared in the Olympic programme in 1992. At the same time the rules of the sport have changed with the length of the boats becoming shorter, penalties changed from the old 5 second penalty to 2 second penalty after the Sydney Olympics and most recently a black band has appeared around the base of each pole to allow the judges to more easily distinguish the base of the pole from the water behind it. The rules also allow a gate with a single pole suspended above the water. The second inside pole would be found hanging over the bank at the side of the course. Video technology is now employed to allow examination of video replay to ensure penalties are justified. This is managed through a Technical Video Service who have cameras mounted to relay back video images to a section of the Scoring Office. This is independent of any commercial TV coverage.
The overall race is governed by the ICF Chief Judge and jury who have final control of the race. Top level experienced international judges watch each paddler down the course of gates to determine whether the paddler touches the gate poles and also correctly negotiate the gate. There is a 2 second penalty for touching a pole, irrespective of how many times or whether one or both poles on the same gate are touched. A 50 second penalty is awarded when a paddler fails to correctly negotiate a gate, for which there are several potential reasons, but are effectively game over for the paddler on that run. In the heats there is a second chance as qualification is based on the best result from the two runs, in the semi-final which is only one run, a 50 second penalty will mean the paddler fails to qualify for the final or immediately miss out on a medal. The paddler must ensure that their head and part of the boat pass through the gateline simultaneously, once only, in the correct direction. A 50 second penalty can be awarded if the paddlers boat but not their head of body pass through the gate, or if their head and none of the boat, if they are upside down as they pass under the gateline, miss a gate entirely, deliberately displace the gate to allow negotiation or hit a subsequent gate, e.g. gate 12, before attempting gate 11.
The gates are marked as red and white (upstream) or green and white (downstream) together with a number board identifying both the numerical order of the gate and the side from which it should be approached. The back (wrong side) of the gate has a red line through the number showing that correct passage is from the other side of the gate. The position of the gate is firmly fixed to ensure they are unable to move between paddlers. They are also weighted a little so that they are less affected by wind, as it is tougher for the paddler to cleanly negotiate a swinging pole than one that is motionless. Poles can on occasion be set in motion by the water for which the paddler is not penalized. The whitewater can though cause the boat to bounce up under the pole and therefore the paddler needs to keep their boat balance and paddles upright to avoid any touches. As noted in a previous post, Richard Fox had a classic style of always passing through the centre of the gateline while Sydney Olympic medallist Paul Ratcliffe had a known style for ducking and diving around poles, which Scott Simpson described as too high risk for most athletes.
Analysis of canoe slalom has previously shown that penalties are more common on the bottom portion of the course as the paddler’s lactic acid builds and one penalty can often knock a paddler off their mental rehearsed plan and sometimes more than one penalty is seen in short succession.
Penalties are communicated by the Gate Judges using a yellow disc or card marked with a figure 2, and red card or disc marked with figure 50. The judging duties are spread amongst a technical team of Gate Judges and Transmission Judges along the course and relayed through keypads, headsets and paper back to the Scoring Office. On complex gates there could be multiple Gate Judges all who have a different view of the gate. There is a very sizeable technical team of officials working behind the scenes, which also includes the timing team.
The Chief Judge signs off on the official results. The paddler’s equipment is also checked at the end of each run against the requirements, ensuring that the boat meets the respective minimum weight requirement and that the PDF and helmet meet the standard.
A National Federation Team Manager can announce an intention to submit a protest on behalf of a paddler in his national team, then providing in writing clear explanation as to why it is felt that the penalty is not valid. This is reviewed by the Chief Judge who may refer to the Video Judge. Appeals (which are rare) may be submitted to the jury if the rules are disputed but not against matters of fact. The decision of the jury is final. The full ICF rules can be accessed through the ICF website www.canoeicf.com .
To win a medal the paddler needs to be fast and likely clean, meaning no penalties. As the run times have continued to get shorter the possibility to win or medal with a 2 second penalty is very remote. The Canadian Doubles, C2, presents a unique challenge for the Judges. Both paddlers must successfully negotiate the gate without either paddler touching the poles. It is amazing to see these big boats cleanly negotiating tight upstream gates with precision.
Tomorrow will look at the resources available at the Olympic Lee Valley venue for the national teams. Comments welcome here on @gregiej on Twitter.