Dan Gartland
Tuesday August 9th, 2016

Pulling for your country in the the Olympics sometimes means pretending to care about a sport you know nothing about. It’s easy to root for a team in basketball or soccer, but what about field hockey or synchronized swimming? 

To help you pretend like you know something about the more obscure Olympic sports, we’ll be bringing you guides for idiots novices so you can fake your way through a conversation or pretend like you know what’s happening while you watch. Previously: handball and rugby sevens. Today: kayaking.

What the hell is it?

Unless you’re from Mars, you’ve seen a canoe before. The Olympic canoeing and kayaking event are pretty straightforward—it’s just a race. There are two types of competitions, a sprint on flat water and a whitewater slalom. There are a variety of team sizes and distances, but that’s about it. 

Olympic medal predictions: Picking gold, silver, bronze in all 306 events

Why should you care?

The whitewater canoe and kayak events are kinda badass. Some of the gates require you to turn around and go through them against the current. 

The speed and flawless synchronization in the team sprint events are pretty impressive, too. 

Is the U.S. any good?

Nope. The last American to medal Rebecca Giddens, who won silver in the single kayak slalom in 2004. Greg Barton won a bronze in 1,000m single kayak sprint in 1992.

No one country dominates these events. Most recent medalists are from Europe, particularly central and eastern Europe. Benjamin Boukpeti, who was born in France, won a bronze in 2008 while representing Togo. 

Rio disaster threat level

On a scale of “unfinished infrastructure” to “favela inferno,” what are the odds this is event is a spectacular failure?

Hundreds of Dead Fish

Fabio Teixeira/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

This could be a mess. The sprint events will be held at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where algae has killed off hundreds of fish. Four coaches and 11 rowers from the U.S. got sick after an Olympic warmup event in the lagoon last year. There has already been an unsubstantiated (but not exactly unbelievable!) rumor that a kayak was capsized by a sofa in the lagoon

The slalom events should be fine, though, since the water used there is purified and chlorinated. So they have that going for them. 

An opening weekend diary from an Olympic rookie in Rio

Who’s the favorite?

There are too many medal events to run down all the favorites, but one guy to watch is Brit David Florence—who won silver in two different canoe events in the last two Olympics.

Solo slalom kayaker Michal Smolen is probably Team USA's best shot at a medal. He won bronze at the world championships last year. 

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.