Summer Olympics: All About Rowing

All About Rowing

One of the complaints I often hear about some sports (basketball, I’m looking at you,) is that it’s not worth watching the first 3/4 of the game when the result is always decided in the last few minutes. Rowing may be the sport least vulnerable to that complaint of any in the Olympics. Part of what is beautiful about rowing is that there are so few variables: stroke cadence, stroke strength, and stroke skill. Beyond that, all there is is effort. And wow, is there ever effort!

How Does Rowing Work?

Olympic rowing races are all 2 kilometers (about 1.25 miles) long. Boats start from a stand-still and start moving at the sound of the horn. In some events, rowers may have an oar in either hand or just one that goes to one side of the boat or the other. Boats may have one, two, four, or eight rowers in them, and may have a coxswain (a tiny person who screams at the rest of the rowers) or not.

Why do People Like Watching Rowing?

There is something mesmeric about watching rowing. The synchronized movement of the oars is soothing to watch. This provides a nice counter-point to the extreme effort the athletes are putting in and, if you are lucky, the incredible suspense of a close race. In rowing, there are no tricks to pull out to make up a deficit at the end of a race. Leads build or evaporate slowly, helping to build enormous dramatic tension. Hitchcock would have loved rowing!

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

There are 14 rowing events in the 2016 Olympics. These can be divided in a number of ways. First, there is gender: women’s and men’s events. Second, there is the number of people in the boat: one (single), two (double), four (quadruple,) and eight. Last, there is the style of rowing: sculls (where rowers have two oars in their hands, one on either side of the boat) and sweeps (where each rower has one oar, either on the right or the left of the boat.) The word “sculls” is always in the sculling event names. If you don’t see “sculls” you know it’s a sweeps event. Lastly, there are two events with weight limits known as “lightweight” events.

How Dangerous is Rowing?

One can only imagine the chaos that could be created by a mass pile-up of full speed rowers colliding in the water. Luckily, that doesn’t really ever happen. Rowing machines in gyms are always a good bet for being pointed to if you’re rehabbing an injury because of their ability to provide a full body workout without strain on joints. Rowing injuries are not unheard of, but you don’t see them at this level in competitions.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Rowing?

Men get two extra events! Women are not allowed to take part in either of the four person events — the coxless four or the lightweight coxless four. Sophomorically ironic and legitimately upsetting! On the other hand 2016 sees an increase in equality of numbers. There will be fewer men’s entries invited overall, bringing their number closer to that of the women.


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Rowing is from Saturday, August 6 to Saturday, August 13.

Read more about rowing on the official Rio Olympics site.