The experts insist it is no more dangerous than, say, skiing—and what better way to get down a stream than churning along crazily in canoe and kayak? After seeding recognition for years, the sport has at last been granted a new role of soaking-wet respectability: in the summer of 1972, white-water slalom will become an official Olympic event, and the river racers, who have been doing this all along just for lumps, will finally be rewarded with ribbons and medals. Meanwhile, the bold ones mix it up each season on rivers where the water is suitably boiling, such as this run on the Is√®re in southeastern France. Here, starting with the sturdy pair at right and on the pages that follow, Cameraman Del Mulkey previews a splashy competition that may make the rest of the Games seem all too tame.
Thrashing through the foam, the French team at right seeks speed and Balance. And in the dramatic spread on the next two pages, Americans Norman Holcombe and Brad Hager emerge soaked but upright.
Kayakers surge down a slalom course, and the idea is to run each gate. But river racers can take any approach: backward, upside down or the full sideswipe, like the paddler below.
Ideally, a white-water course is punctuated with pools and eddies among the rapids—providing a few brief seconds of calm for contestants such as the young woman at left.