It may not be one of the marquee Olympic events, but women's whitewater (also known as "K-1"
The Olympic kayaking scene
Nope, the kayakers won't be navigating Beijing's Yellow River — or any real rapids in China for that matter. Rather, the events take place at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park, a state-of-the-art facility, featuring seating for 10,000, a completely manmade 1.4 mile-long-river, and the whitewater course. The venue, which also serves as the setting for the rowing/flatwater events as well as the marathon 10K swim, will be converted into a swimming and recreation resort following the Games.
The Olympic kayaking rules
In the K-1 event, athletes negotiate the choppy course (rapids are generated by powerful pumps) in the shortest amount of time. But it's not just about who gets to the finish line first: All competitors must maneuver through the 18 to 25 gates set up along the course. Miss a gate and incur a 50-second penalty; touch one with your pole and two seconds are added to the total time.
Olympic kayaking super strokers
Superstar swimmer Dara Torres isn't the only 40-year-old medal contender: Czech athlete Stepanka Hilgertova, also age 40, is racing for her third gold — a feat unmatched in the sport of whitewater. Mom to a 21-year-old son (who happens to be a world champion paddler himself), Hilgertova is a hero in her native Prague and carried the flag for her country in the Olympic's opening ceremony.
Of course, Hilgertova's not alone in her quest for gold. Aiming to knock Hilgertova off the top of the podium will be Slovakia's Elena Kalisak and China's Li Jingjing. Though a longshot for the medals, American Heather Corrie fared well enough in the earlier heats to qualify for the semifinals on Friday.
Give it a whitewater whirl
Want to rock the whitewater like these ladies? Even if you're not conquering raging rapids, kayaking and canoeing are both awesome ways to get fit fast. In fact, 45 minutes of paddling burns almost 300 calories! For more reasons to paddle, read Benefits of canoeing and kayaking
And stay tuned for coverage of the women's flatwater kayaking events, featuring American Carrie Johnson