I have chosen my top three for each of the main men’s disciplines of K-1 (Kayak), C-1 and C-2 (Canoe) and a top five for women covering all events.
The first world championships were held in 1949 and they have been held every two years until 1999 and annually in non-Olympic years since 2002. After one Olympic appearance in 1972 it was only reintroduced in 1992 and has remained in the programme since. The main annual competition is the World Cup which has run since 1988.
This is the most competitive of all the disciplines and it has been very hard to dominate in the way other events have been. Fox is clearly the most dominant at K-1 although in a non-Olympic and slightly less competitive era. After that there are several very closely matched kayakers with my choices just edging out Paul Ratcliffe , Fabian Dörfler, Pierpaolo Ferrazzi and Fabien Lefèvre who is notable for also having won a C-1 world title. Adding that title would put him in the top three.
1. Richard Fox (GB) – the winner of five individual world championships and five team world titles between 1979 and 1993. His first individual gold came in 1981 and he retained his title at the next two championships in 1983 and 1985. He regained his title in 1989 and won it again in 1993. He won the World Cup title three times and the Euro Cup title four times. His career was mainly when canoe slalom wasn’t included in the Olympics and he only competed once, coming 4th in 1992.
2. Peter Kauzer (Slovenia) – world champion in 2009 and 2011. He has won the world cup K1 title three times from 2009 to 2015. However, so far he has disappointed in his Olympic appearances. He has won five European gold medals (four in team, one individual).
3. Scott Shipley (USA) – world cup winner in 1993, 1995 and 1997. He never won the world title but took silver three times between 1995 and 1999. These near misses just give him third place in my rankings over the others with similar levels of achievement.
Three figures dominate the history of the C-1. In order of precedence in my eyes they are:
- Jon Lugbill (USA) – the greatest C-1 canoeist of the 1980s. In the six world championships held between 1979 and 1989 he won five and was second in the other (in 1985). He won seven world team gold medals taking each title from 1979 to 1991. He also won the first three world cup titles for C1 from 1988 to 1990.
- Michal Martikan (Slovakia) – an outstanding canoeist for the last two decades. He won a World cup race aged sixteen and a year later took the 1996 Olympic title. He took silver at the next two Games but in 2008 regained his title. He added a bronze in 2012 to set a record total for any canoe slalom competitor of five medals. At world Championships he won a medal in the individual C1 every time from 1995 to 2010 with four of those gold medals. He has also won eight team golds. He has also won the C1 world Cup five times between 1998 and 2014, a record. He has won four European individual titles and nine team golds.
- Tony Estanguet (France) – Martikan’s greatest rival who won the Olympic titles of 2000, 2004 and 2012. He won three individual world titles between 2006 and 2010 and two team golds. He won seven other world medals and ten European Championship medals with four gold.
One pair towers above all others in this discipline and second place is also clear-cut. Third was a closer decision.
- Pavol Hochschorner/Peter Hochschorner (Slovakia) – one of the greatest teams in any sport in the 21st century. These twin brothers were World Cup winners in C-2 ten times, winning every year from 1999 to 2008 except for 2005. They added one more title in 2011 and are the most successful competitors in any discipline in world cup slalom paddling. They won five world championships at C-2 between 2002 and 2011 and one more in the C-2 team. They won the Olympic gold medal in each Games from 2000 to 2008 with a bronze in 2012. The pair have also won ten European Championship gold medals.
- Miroslav Šimek/Jiří Rohan (Czech Republic) – winners of the World Cup in C2 for six consecutive years from 1990 to 1995. They were world champions in 1993 and won two more golds in team events but only won a silver medal at the Olympics.
- Frank Adisson/Wilfrid Forgues (France) – Olympic champions in 1996 and world champions in 1991 and 1997 where they also won golds in team events. They were twice World Cup winners.
- I have these pairs just ahead of Günther Merkel & Manfred Merkel (GDR) who won three world titles in the 1960s
Women’s K-1 and C-1
- Elena Kaliská (Slovakia) – winner of a record six World Cup titles at K-1, taking it every year from 2000 to 2006 except for 2002. She was Olympic K-1 champion in 2004 and 2008 and world champion in 2005. She also won a team world title in 2011. She won eight golds at European Championships, five at individual K-1.
- Štěpánka Hilgertová (Czech Republic) – Olympic champion at K-1 in 1996 and 2000 and twice world K-1 champion where she also won five team golds. She was world cup champion twice and won seven European Championship golds.
- Ludmila Veberova- Polesná (Czechoslovakia) – the greatest of the early women paddlers. She was four times world champion at K-1 between 1961 and 1969 , only being defeated in 1965. She won seven other world championship medals.
- Jana Dukátová (Slovakia) – world cup champion at K-1 four times from 2009 to 2013. She won the K-1 world title in 2006 and was C-1 world champion in 2010. She has won four golds at European championships.
- Myriam Fox- Jerusalmi (France) – just making it into the top 5 ahead of her daughter Jessica. Myriam won the world cup title at K-1 each year from 1989 to 1991 and was world champion in 1989 and 1993. She also won six golds in world championship team events.