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Last Updated: Friday, 23 April 2004, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Paddle power at Games
The quadruple kayak will be among the events in Athens
The quadruple kayak will be among the events in Athens
Canoeing can be traced back several thousand years as one of the oldest forms of human transport.

The earliest canoes were constructed from animal skins and tree bark, with modern designs the descendants of those used by North American indigenous cultures.

"Kayak" is the Canadian Inuit word for a sealskin-decked canoe, while "canoe" comes from the Canadian Indian birch-bark vessel.

Today's sport is a product of 19th century Britain, with Scottish barrister John MacGregor introducing the modern decked kayak to London's River Thames in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

McGregor founded the Royal Canoe Club in 1866 and the first competitions were held in the same year.

In North America, the more durable open canoe was more popular and by the 1890s virtually replaced the decked canoe for both single-blade and double-blade paddling.

It was soon exported to Britain and France and, from there, the open canoe became increasingly popular throughout Europe.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) was founded in 1924, the year in which flatwater racing first became a display sport at the Olympic Games.

Men's canoe/kayak flatwater racing disciplines were included in the Olympic Games competition schedule for the first time in 1936 in Berlin.

The women's disciplines were first included in 1948 in London.

Slalom made its first Olympic appearance in the 1972 Munich Games but did not reappear until Barcelona in 1992.

The most successful athlete was Birgit Fischer-Schmidt who represented East Germany and the Germany for a 20-year spell from 1980 during which she won seven golds and 10 medals in total.

When she won the kayak singles in Moscow she became, at age 18, the youngest canoeing champion in Olympic history.

Four years ago she bowed out with pairs and fours titles, and but for her country's boycoot of the 1984 Games, her golden haul would have reached double figures.

The best male was Gert Fredriksson who won six kayak golds, a silver and a bronze between 1948 and 1960.

MEDAL TABLE (Top five)
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Men (since 1936)
Soviet Union 22 12 6 40
Germany 15 10 4 29
Hungary 12 19 16 47
Sweden 11 9 2 22
Romania 9 9 10 28
Women (since 1980)
Soviet Union 8 2 3 13
Germany 7 6 1 14
East Germany 6 2 1 9
Sweden 3 2 2 7
Hungary 2 6 5 13

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