Sweden’s Gert Fredriksson, two-time Olympic (1948 and 1952) and World (1950 and 1954) Champion in the K-1 1000 returned to the Olympics in 1956 as a strong favorite to defend his crown. On the day prior to the event, he had reclaimed the Olympic title in the K-1 10000 that he had won in 1948 and then lost in 1952. One potentially strong challenger was Finland’s Thorvald Strömberg, the reigning Olympic runner-up and a man who had already performed the rare feat of besting Fredriksson in a race twice, by defeating him in the K-1 10000 at both the 1950 World Championships and the 1952 Summer Olympics. Other contenders included Louis Gantois of France, the 1952 Olympic bronze medalist and 1954 World runner-up, and Lajos Kiss, who was representing the reigning World bronze medalist nation of Hungary.
The opening round, however, brought several surprises. In the first heat, Fredriksson was nearly defeated by the Soviet Union’s Igor Pisarev and managed to eke out a victory by only 0.2 seconds, while Strömberg, suffering from stomach problems, was eliminated. In the next, both Kiss and Gantois were bested by a relatively unknown Stefan Kapłaniak of Poland, although, since every competitor in that heat advanced, it was likely that the others were merely conserving their strength. The final heat had no obvious favorites and was won by Germany’s Ernst Steinhauer, a World Champion in the K-2 500 and bronze medalist in the K-2 10000. In the final, Fredriksson took charge and defeated Pisarev with ease, earning his fifth gold medal and his third straight in the K-1 1000. The Soviet thus settled for silver, while Kiss took bronze a good distance ahead of Kapłaniak, who was fourth.