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Canoe/Kayaking Olympic Paddling History

Canoe/kayak made its first Olympic appearance as a demonstration sport in 1924 during the VIII Olympiad in Paris. Harry T. Knight, Jr., Karl M. Knight, Charles W. Havens and John F. Larcombe won every kayak event and finished a close second behind the Canadians in the four canoe events.

The International Olympic Committee rejected canoeing as an Olympic sport in the IXth and Xth Olympiad because only six nations participated in canoeing competitions. The international canoeing association, however, continued to petition the IOC to recognize canoeing as an Olympic sport. It was added as a full medal sport in 1936, when 20 nations competed in nine events. The best finish for a U.S. Team member was by Ernie Riedel, who won a bronze in the K-1 10,000m.

Because of World War II, only 17 nations entered paddlers in the 1948 Olympics. With the first post-war Olympiad came the newly organized International Canoe Federation (ICF), as well as a gold medal and two silver medals for U.S. paddlers. Steve Lysak and Steve Macknowski captured the gold medal in the C-2 10,000m and the silver in the C-2 1,000m. Frank Havens won the other U.S. silver medal, in the C-1 10,000m.

Havens led the U.S. Team for the next two Olympiads. A gold medalist in the C-1 10,000m in 1952, he also had the best finish for the U.S. with eighth place in the C-1 10,000m in 1956.

In 1964, the women's team captured its first Olympic medal and the first U.S. medal in 12 years. The team of Francine Fox and Gloriane Perrier won a silver medal in the K2W 500m, while Marcia Jones earned the bronze medal in the K1W 500m. For the next 20 years, however, the U.S. team struggled in Olympic competition.

During that time, the Olympic program saw change. In 1972, Whitewater slalom was added to the program for the first time, enjoying remarkable spectator response. Jamie McEwan, a 19-year-old Yale University student, brought home the first U.S. Whitewater Olympic medal with a bronze in C-1 competition. In 1976, the 500 meter K-1, K-2, C-1 and C-2 for men were added to the sprint program, raising the number of flatwater events to 11. A boycott by several national Olympic committees reduced the number of participating nations to 23 in 1980. Despite the boycott, Moscow hosted the games using a man-made regatta course and an automated starting mechanism. Twenty-seven nations sent their paddlers to Los Angeles in 1984, although most Eastern Bloc countries did not participate. Addition of the K4W 500m women's race was the only program change, raising the sprint program total to its current 12 events.

The 1984 Olympiad marked the beginning of a U.S. comeback. Greg Barton won the bronze medal in the K-1 1,000m, while other U.S. athletes placed in the top five. The team of Terry Kent and Terry White finished fourth in the K-2 1,000m, missing the bronze medal by two-tenths of a second. The women's K-4, consisting of Sheila Conover, Shirley Dery, Leslie Klein and Ann Turner, also finished fourth. Rob Plankenhorn and Rod McLain were fifth in the C-2 1,000m, and Klein and Dery teamed for a fifth place finish in the K-2 500m.

The 1988 Olympic Games saw the U.S. enjoy its greatest showing since that first demonstration glimpse of the sport in 1924. Barton stormed to a hairs-breadth (.005 seconds) victory in the K-1 1,000m, then returned to the Han River Course less than 90 minutes later to team with Norman Bellingham for gold in the K-2 1,000m, marking the first time an athlete has won two 1,000m kayaking golds in the same Olympic Games. It also was the first time an American paddler won two golds in a single Olympic Games.

Barcelona saw the return of Whitewater slalom to the competition program, and with it came American success, but not from the expected source. An ever-so-slight gate touch by Jon Lugbill bumped the multiple world champion from the medal podium, but the U.S. sent two others to receive medals: Joe Jacobi and Scott Stausbaugh in C-2, who claimed the gold medal with two phenomenal runs; and Dana Chladek, who earned the bronze medal in K-1W.

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