- Associated Press - Saturday, August 20, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - In the Olympics, women can paddle a kayak but not a canoe. Some men think it should stay that way.

As the canoe sprint competition wrapped up Saturday, the medalists in the men’s kayak four criticized plans to include women’s canoe single (C1) and double (C2) in the next Olympics.

“I don’t think the women’s canoeing like C1 or C2 belongs (in the) Olympic Games,” said Erik Vlcek, who took silver with Slovakia.

His argument was that women canoeists are just not good enough. A Czech paddler joked that canoeing is harmful for a woman’s posture.

Their comments underscored how gender equality remains an unsettled issue in canoe sprint, a flatwater sport where athletes race in canoes or kayaks.

In Rio, there were eight events for men - five kayak and three canoe - and only four for women, all kayak. It’s one of the few sports on the Olympic program with more medals for men than women, and the International Canoe Federation has come under pressure to even things out.

“If we like to guarantee canoe in the Olympics we need women in the Olympics,” International Canoe Federation president Jose Perurena told The Associated Press.

For Tokyo 2020, the federation has decided to cut two men’s events - the C1 200 meters and K2 200 meters - to make room for two canoe events for women.

Max Hoff, who won gold with Germany in the men’s K4, agreed with Vclek that women’s canoeing events aren’t competitive enough and shouldn’t replace men’s events that are.

“They have to improve the women’s canoe so that when they get into the Olympic program they are really good,” he said.

Hoff said he understands that canoe sprint risks being kicked out of the Olympics if it doesn’t achieve better gender balance “but for us boys we’re sorry about that because some disciplines of our racing are gone.”

Women’s canoe events were introduced to the canoe sprint world championships in 2010.

Perurena said that women canoeists are already competing at a high level and that by Tokyo their events will be as competitive as the men’s.

He called the canoe sprint competition in Rio a great success, partly because of the good weather and the scenic setting on a lagoon surrounded by mountains and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.

Germany won four of the eight men’s events while Spain won two and Ukraine and Britain one each.

Danuta Kozak of Hungary dominated the women’s competition, winning gold in the K1, K2 and K4 events over 500 meters. She’s the first female kayaker to win three gold medals in the same Olympics. New Zealand’s Lisa Carrington defended her Olympic title in the K1 200 meters.

Female competitors have long called for more gender balance in canoeing, though many also show sympathy for male colleagues whose events are being dropped from the Olympic program.

“As women we are happy that there are more races for us,” said Franziska Weber, who won silver medals for Germany in the women’s K2 and K4. “But it is also sad for the men that there are some great events that we miss in the next Olympics.”

Josef Dostal, who got bronze with the Czech Republic in the men’s K4, joked that his team mates were split on allowing women canoeists in the Olympics, with one in favor because “they are beautiful,” another against and a third “has a wife so he cannot say a word.”

Dostal also quipped that women would develop an unnatural posture from canoeing, in which athletes kneel in the boat and paddle on just one side of it. Kayakers sit down and use a paddle with blades on both ends.

“Canoeists are always like one shoulder up, one shoulder down,” he said, demonstrating what he meant with his body. “Imagine all the girls walking like that.”

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