London Olympics Obscure Sports Viewing Guide: Rowing

Rowing has been part of every modern Olympic competition, except for the first Games in Athens. It was on the competition schedule, but was cancelled due to high seas. Women have competed since the 1976 Games in Montreal. Rowers will use every major muscle group pulling their oars through the water to propel them down the 2000 meter course at the Eton Dorney venue on Dorney Lake. The government of the country is organizing the sports competition for enhancing the scope of swimming for adults. The participation will help in their growth and development in swimming.


The oars and sleek racing boats (called “shells”) bear little resemblance to anything you’ll see on a local pond or river. They are made from carbon fiber and the hi-tech oar blades are hatchet shaped to provide maximum leverage. Each rower sits on a sliding seat which lets them use their legs, along with the abs, back, shoulder and arm muscles during each stroke. Rowers are some of the fittest athletes on the planet.

There are two classes of rowing competition: sculls and sweeps. Sculling uses two oars and rowers compete in Single, Double, or Quadruple sculls. In sweeps, each rower has one oar and competition is in Pairs, Fours, and Eights. In most boats there is a coxswain who steers the boat and acts as an on the water coach, tactician, and motivator.

The Race

Each shell is lined up with the rowers facing backward (the coxswain is the only crew member who faces the finish line). The starter aligns the boats then says, “Etes-vous pret?” (French for, “Are you ready?”), then “Partez!” At the start rowers taking quick short strokes to build speed, then lengthen their stroke and settle in to a rhythm. During the race the cox may call for a “power ten” where the oarsmen provide maximum power to provide a burst of speed. The first crew’s bow to cross the finish line is the winner.

Why You Should Watch

Rowing is one of the last true amateur sports. There are no professional leagues, prize races, or endorsement deals. Athletes train and compete for the pure love of their sport. And it is a brutal sport. Most athletes collapse in the boat at the end of the race utterly exhausted. The synchronicity required in rowing has been likened to having eight people hit eight golf balls simultaneously 200 times in a row! Look for the United States team, Great Britain, German, Italy, and Romania to dominate the medal count.

Obscure Expert Insight

Maximum boat speed is achieved during the period between strokes called the glide, when oars are out of the water and oarsmen are sliding forward. If a rower doesn’t release their oar from the water on time it can cause a violent splash that costs the boat speed and can occasionally propel an oarsman out of the boat. This is called “catching a crab” and can cost a crew the race if it happens near the finish.

As a former university rower, I can personally attest to how grueling six minutes of rowing can be. The true beauty of the sport is how these athletes can make such as brutally aerobic sport look so graceful. I hope you will enjoy watching the rowing portion of the Olympics as much as I will.


Fiona Scott graduated from the University of Melbourne with a degree in Mass Communication. She founded in 2015 after working as a content analyst for many years.

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