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Rowing is propelling a boat by means of oars. The purpose can be transportation, recreation or sport.

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Rowing sport

Rowing is a speed sport in narrow wooden or composite boats, where the athlete sits on a sliding seat above the water level and faces backwards, using oars operating as levers of the second type to move the boat. Outriggers are used to increase the leverage of the oars. The outriggers must be fixed to the boat. We distinguish between rowing or sweep rowing (one oar per rower) and sculling (two oars per rower). Rowing boats can be coxed (steered by a coxswain) or coxless.

Rowing is unusual in the demands it places on competitors. The standard race distance of 2,000m is long enough to have a large endurance element, but short enough (typically 5.5 to 7.5 minutes) to feel like a sprint. This means that rowers have some of the highest power outputs of athletes in any sport. At the same time the motion involved in the sport compresses the rowers' lungs, limiting the amount of oxygen available to them. This requires rowers to tailor their breathing to the stroke, typically inhaling and exhaling twice per stroke, unlike most other sports such as cycling where competitors can breathe freely.

The relative obscurity of rowing has helped it develop an introspective atmosphere, where long hours, early mornings on the river, and the physical pain of the event are the price of being a part of the rowing community. The intense focus of top rowers on their sport is unusual even by the standard of similarly excellent competitors in other sports.

One piece of equipment commonly used when training for rowing, the 'indoor rower' or 'ergometer', has become popular as a sport in its own right.


Rowing boats (or similar vessels) have been around for centuries, but before the 18th century, there is little mention of boat races. In the 13th century, Venetian festivals called regata included boat races among others. Nowadays, rowing competitions are still called regattas (with a second 't' added).

The first modern rowing races, in the second half of the 18th century, were races between watermen on the River Thames in England. Subsequently, rowing became extremely popular as an amateur sport, often with thousands of spectators for events. From the first University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge on the River Thames (known as the Isis when flowing through Oxford), student rowing has become increasingly popular. In the Anglo-Saxon world, there is also a sizeable school rowing community.

Rowing today is governed by the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron[?] (FISA, International Federation of Rowing Associations), which organises World Championships since 1962. Rowing has also been conducted at the Olympic Games since 1900 (cancelled at the first modern Games in 1896).

Strong rowing nations include the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Australia. Well-known rowers of the recent years include Sir Steve Redgrave (UK), who won Olympic golds in five successive Olympics in the coxless pair and the coxless four, Rob Waddell[?] (New Zealand) and Xeno Muller[?] (Switzerland), opponents in the single sculls, Ekaterina Karsten[?] (Belarus) in women's single sculls, Katrin Boron[?] (Germany) in women's double sculls and quadruples.

Competition Format

At World Championship level, sculling races include :

  • quadruple sculls (four rowers)
  • double sculls (two rowers)
  • single sculls (one rower)

and rowing races include:

  • coxed eight (or eight)
  • coxed fours
  • coxless fours
  • coxless pairs (occasionally coxed pairs are rowed).

There are also lightweight men's (<72.5kg) and lightweight women's (<57.5kg) races in the aforementioned classes. All races are held over 2000 metres.

Coxed fours and coxed pairs are to longer Olympic events. It is rumored that this decision was made to make room for the lightweight men's and women's competition at the Olympics. As a result of the cancelation of the coxed fours and coxed pairs at the Olympics, rowers take less interest in rowing those types of boats at World Championships as well.

One Stroke

  • The stroke begins with the oar out of the water with the blade feathered, or in other words parallel to the water. The rower has legs straight and body upright, and arms straight in front.
  • The rower leans the body forward ( i.e. toward the stern) slightly while keeping the oar level and legs straight.
  • The rower bends the legs, bringing the seat forward ( i.e. toward the stern) on its rollers, while the oar remains level.
  • The blade of the oar is turned 90 degrees so that it is perpendicular to the water.
  • The blade is quickly inserted into the water. This is called the catch.
  • The rower pulls on the oar, gradually straightening the legs while the body remains leaned forward and arms straight.
  • The rower continues pulling while the body leans back ( i.e. towards the bow ).
  • The rower pulls the oar to the chest while bending the arms.
  • The rower pushes the oar down such that the blade comes out of the water.
  • The oar is turned 90 degrees such that the blade is parallel to the water.
  • The arms are pushed out in front of the body until they are straight.
  • The body is returned to the upright position, and now the position is identical to the starting position.

Rowing Terminology

  • "Easy oars" -- To stop.
  • "Way enough" -- To stop.
  • Shell -- The boat used for rowing.
  • Scull -- To row with two oars (per rower), or a shell designed to be sculled.
  • Erg -- Short for ergometer: a rowing machine.
  • Launch -- A motorboat used by rowing instructors or coaches.
  • Port -- A sweep rower who rows with the oar on the port side.
  • Starboard -- A sweep rower who rows with the oar on the starboard side.
  • Feather -- To turn the oar so that its blade is parallel with the water.
  • Catch -- the part of the stroke at which the blade enters the water.
  • Stroke -- the rower in the stern of a multi-person shell, whose timing is followed by the other rowers.
  • Bow -- the rower in the front (i.e. the direction the boat is moving while rowing) of a multi-person shell. In coxless boats often the person who keeps an eye on the water behind him to avoid accidents.
  • Crab -- a rowing error in which the blade is pushed under the water and becomes caught in the flow of the water past the boat, referred to as 'catching a crab'. This always results in slowing the boat down, and can even lift a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize.
  • Seat race -- a method to compare two rowers in fours or eights. Two boats race against each other once. One rower from each boat switch positions, and the two boats race again. Relative performance in the two races is used to compare the abilities of the two rowers.
  • Macon blade -- Traditional U-shaped blade
  • Cleaver blade -- Modern, hatchet-shaped blade

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