Winning on the Wild Water

"This sport is a lottery. You never know who will win," whitewater kayaker Elena Kaliska said with a half-smile last Wednesday, still dripping wet after stepping out of her boat. Easy for her to say — she'd just hit the jackpot. The Slovak star had just rocketed down the maelstrom of a slalom course to win the women's singles race ahead of Californian Rebecca Giddens. The American's consolation: she was the only non-European to win one of the 12 medals up for grabs in the four whitewater races.

Slovakia and France divvied up the golds, two each. Twins...