Canoe slalom is one of the bumpiest of sports events, but José Perurena, President of the International Canoe Federation (ICF), is expecting a smooth ride for the Rio 2016 Test event due to take place at the end of this month at the Whitewater Stadium within the Deodoro Olympic Park.
He has, however, confirmed that the problems encountered during September’s Canoe Sprint Test event on the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas are likely to be combated through, literally, cutting edge technology.
While the last Test event, which took place between September 4 and 6, on a stretch of water that has raised health concerns over its levels of pollution threw up no obvious concerns in that area, many of the athletes taking part reported getting caught up in algae and weeds which have thrived during an unseasonably warm winter in Brazil.
“Rio 2016 has been solving the problems and challenges that arise with some Olympic venues,” Perurena told insidethegames. “At this time we have conducted a test of the sprint venue with generally good impressions.
“It is lacking in some areas such as problems with algae in the Lagoa lagoon, but I am sure that we will solve this problem with both technical solutions made to ensure the boat can cut through any stray algae and the efforts of the Organising Committee to clear the competition areas.”
An ICF spokesman added: “There is an application in to create a rudder with a blade on the front of it, which means the rudder will not get caught up in the algae, but will sheer through it.
“It’s something that is already used in the marathon event, and now it may be used in the sprint competition. It will be discussed at our Board Meeting in December.”
Meanwhile, the ICF is maintaining a positive attitude with regard to the relative cleanliness of the water.
“We don’t expect it to be a problem,” the spokeman said. “It was not an issue in our Test event in September. We know the water is being regularly tested ahead of the Olympics so we don’t think it is going to be an area of concern. We trust the organising committee to monitor the situation and to react to any potential problems.”
At the conclusion of September's Test event on the Lagoa the Canoe Sports manager of Rio 2016, Sebastián Cuattrin, said plans were in place to prevent a similar algae and weed problem next year.
“It's for situations like this that we have the Test event,” he explained. “I'm confident that we will make the necessary adjustments and that everything will be resolved by the Games.”
Perurena, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member since 2011 and, since 2014, President of the International World Games Association (IWGA), is upbeat about the forthcoming Test event in Rio de Janeiro.
“At the moment the competition infrastructure is in perfect condition and work before the Games with sports and recreational activities is well underway,” he said. “I'm sure that it will be one of the best facilities in Rio 2016. Also it has a crystalline water of high quality.”
An ICF spokesman added: “The Rio 2016 slalom course is probably already the most tested course we have ever had at an Olympic Games. We have worked initially with models, and then done extensive work on it.
“The Test event will be all about evaluating the field of play, the timing system and the effectiveness of the water flow. We don’t have any big concerns in any area. It is a closed venue, so we have control over the quality of the water.”
A total of 180 athletes from 30 countries took part in the Canoe Sprint Test event. This month’s Canoe Slalom Test event has attracted 131 athletes from 27 countries, including Britain’s C1 world champion and Olympic silver medallist David Florence, who will also compete in the C2 category with Richard Hounslow, with whom he won Olympic silver in 2012.
Earlier this month, ICF vice-president and IOC member Tony Estanguet, told insidethegames that the Federation was working on the creation of temporary slalom venues to offer cities bidding for the Olympics or other multi-event championships a cheaper and more sustainable option, adding that it would be available to the Tokyo 2020 organisers if required - although that now appears unlikely.
Such a technological advance would lessen the risk of any repeat of what happened with the slalom venue at the 2004 Athens Olympics, which was closed down after the Games.
Tokyo 2020’s canoe slalom course was initially due to be constructed in Kasai Rinkai Park, but it was subject to protests from environmental protesters who claimed it would damage the area.
It has now been moved outside of the Park to reduce the cost of the facility, as part of changes to the Games' venue plans designed to save around $1 billion (£650 million/€890 million).
“Two of our officers had a site visit with Tokyo 2020 officials last month which was very positive,” the ICF spokesman said. “Tokyo 2020 are very keen to build a permanent slalom course that they will retain as a legacy after the Games, in the same way that London have.
“As things stand the temporary or moveable course is a vision for the future that could offer the discipline more scope to enter other multi-sport events such as the Commonwealth or European Games and open up additional opportunities to bring the sport into the heart of cities.
“It is not aimed as a direct replacement for future venues, and we will always aim to build a permanent legacy for our sport where possible. However, we - as with every sport - must continue to look for innovative ways to evolve and enhance our future.”
Creating a permanent canoe slalom venue has often proved to be one of the most expensive facilities required for the Olympics with the Lee Valley White Water Centre, which hosted competition at London 2012, costing around £31 million ($47 million/€43 million) to build.
But the spokesman added: “It’s worth noting that the London 2012 Canoe Slalom course was the first venue to be used for a World Championships following the Games, and it is also the performance centre for the British elite team as well as a regular training and competition venue for world-class competitions.”
Perurena believes the Lee Valley facility has had “a big impact”, adding: “We have demonstrated that it is one of the best legacies from London 2012; it is a venue in full swing, reaching the highest technical standards and operational standards within a clear operating budget.
"Tokyo 2020 representatives visited during the recent World Championships held there and were suitably impressed with the venue and level of competition as well as the additional activities designed to engage the community and generate revenue to support the elite level performance.
“Many of my IOC colleagues have told me they have very positive impressions about the Lee Valley venue and its legacy.”
Perurena, a 70-year-old who competed for Spain in the K4 1000m event at the 1968 Mexioc Olympics, has a clear view on how canoeing will shape itself within the Olympic Movement.
“We are continually evolving,” he said. “This December’s Board Meeting will approve the final proposal for the event programme we will put forward to the IOC for inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“The ICF’s vision is to have the gender equality, we will propose eight women’s and eight men’s events for canoe sprint and two of each in the slalom. We are also working on the programme of the Games of 2024.”
The ICF spokesman added: “Gender equality is a very high priority for us and it’s something that we’re working on, although it is easier at the World Championships because of the greater range of events. Working out which men’s events we take out is going to be the big issue.”
At the London 2012 Games, there were four slalom events – the men’s C1 and C2, the men’ K1 and the women’s K1. The 2012 sprint programme featured 12 events, four of which were for women.
“The proposal at the moment is that the slalom will feature only individual events, with the C2 men’s event dropping out,” the spokesman added. “In the sprints, there will be a C1 event for the women.”
Beyond the demands of the impending Test event, Perurena, wearing his World Games hat, foresees some stern challenges ahead in terms of ensuring a sensible spread of events throughout the world sporting calendar.
Asked if he thought there was a danger that too many events were being created internationally, he responded: “Yes, there is. I'm worried, like most of my colleagues in the International Federations. Athletes cannot be permanently competing. Athletes have a limit, they have to have a balance between family life, education and training.
“ASOIF (Association of Summer Olympic International Federations) and the IOC are looking for solutions to this problem. The IOC has created a working group that is studying the harmonization of a global calendar to streamline and limit the increase in competition.
“My personal opinion is that they are: first, the Olympic Games, then the International Federations World Championships, then the Continental Games and Youth Games and finally all the multidisciplinary Games, such as the World Games, Universiade, Master Games, Beach Games..
“For example, the schedule could look like this: 2018 Summer Youth Games and Winter Games, 2019 all Continental Games, 2020 Olympic Games and Winter Youth Games and 2021 all multidisciplinary Games.”
Regarding the World Games, Perurena foresees “a bright future” – not least because of the most recent indication of support from the IOC, with whom the IWGA signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2000 in which the IOC pledged to maintain cooperation and to provide expertise and help in the promotion of IWGA activities within the Olympic Movement.
Set-up in 1981, the World Games is a quadrennial event for sports and disciplines not on the Olympic programme, with the IWGA currently consisting of 37 International Federations, some of which also govern disciplines showcased at the Olympics.
Relations between the body and the IOC have not always been harmonious, but they have been increasingly united in recent years as the IOC has sought to attract new sports into the Olympic arena.
Perurena acknowledges “the support we are receiving from the IOC”, noting the letter written recently by IOC President Thomas Bach and delivered to all 206 National Olympic Committees at last month’s Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Washington D.C., urging them to support the 2017 World Games.
“The IWGA and the World Games event play important roles in the framework of the Olympic Movement," Bach wrote, before encouraging NOCs to participate in 2017's event in Wroclaw, Poland, scheduled for July 20 to 30.
Perurena is confident that the World Games will fit in smoothly with the Olympic Movement following the adoption of Agenda 2020.
“The World Games are specifically recognised in the Agenda 2020 in recommendation six,” he said. “We have created a working group with the IOC to seek the integration of the World Games in the IOC.”
He added that discussions were also coming to fruition with the Olympic Broadcasting Services to integrate the World Games with the proposed Olympic Channel.
“While I was at the ANOC Assembly I made a presentation of our organisation and have received a lot of congratulations and interest about the World Games,” he said.
“Just remember that the five proposed sports by Tokyo 2020 are already included at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland. So we will see the potential for these sports.”