London 2012 primer – Rowing

Published On July 12, 2012 | By Zoë Hayden

Tell me about rowing:

Rowing will take place at Eton Dorney near Windsor Castle, about 25 miles outside of London. Dorney Lake is a 220-meter man-made channel of water constructed specifically for rowing. The channel is owned by Eton College, hence the name “Eton Dorney” being used for the Olympics. All events are races with eight events for men and six events for women. There are two styles of rowing: sculls (each rower uses two oars) and sweeps (each rower uses one). Events are categorized based on how many crew, what style of rowing is used, and what type of boat is employed. The men’s and women’s events are as follows: single sculls, coxless pair, double sculls, lightweight double sculls, quadruple sculls, and eight (meaning eight sweep rowers in a boat called an eight, steered by a coxswain).  Coxless four and lightweight coxless four are a men’s events only. Lightweight events also involve a weight limit on the athletes in each boat.

What’s up with the scoring:

Because it’s a race, it’s pretty straightforward: first across the finish line wins. There are penalties for false starts, leaving one’s facing lane and impeding another boat’s progress.

How do players qualify:

Nations qualified at the 2011 World Championships in Bled, Slovenia as well as at several other smaller regattas worldwide. A nation’s qualification means the nation has a certain amount of athletes it can bring and it then chooses the athletes to fill the Olympic berths at its own discretion rather than having to have the specific athlete at the qualification event. At the Olympic level, qualification for medal races begins with a series of heats, and then a second event called a repechage which fine-tunes the ranking. Depending on how many boats are in each event, a quarterfinal and semifinal round may also take place before the final race to further narrow the competition.

International players to watch:

Britain has a rich history of rowing and the host country’s competitors will be watched closely. The 40-year-old Greg Searle might be the best story of the event; he won gold in Barcelona in the men’s coxed pairs event (incidentally the last year that event was held).  He retired from international rowing in 2001, but returned at age 38 in the 2010 Rowing World Championships. He will be competing in the men’s eight. New Zealanders Rebecca Scown and Juliette Haigh are highly ranked as well, competing in the women’s coxless pair event. They won gold in Bled for that event in a dramatic final. The pair blogs about their competitions and training on their website,

Americans to watch:

American teams rank fifth overall and second in women’s events as of the most recent regatta, the 2012 World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland. The most likely event for the USA to medal is probably the women’s eight, which they also won last year in Beijing, medaling for the first time since 1984.  The team will consist of Mary Whipple, Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Esther Lofgren, Susan Francia, and Erin Cafaro, with only Ritzel, Lofgren, and Musnicki being new to the Olympics. Whipple is a veteran of the US National Team since 1998 and coxed the team to victory in 2008.

Talk like an Olympian–terms to know:

cox or coxswain – the person in charge of an eight boat’s navigation and steering who sits in the stern looking forward, whereas the eight rowers face backward.

oarlock – a rectangular lock that attaches the oars to the boat, allowing for the oars to be rotated and pulled in a controlled manner.  (UK rowers may call it a rowlock instead.)

rigger or outrigger – a projection from the boat’s side that holds the oarlock

shell – refers to the rowing boat, since it is just a “shell” with seating and outriggers as opposed to a more complex boat.  The seating inside a shell slides on tracks as the rowers pull.

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About The Author

Zoë Hayden is a 22-year-old writer from Hopwood, Pennsylvania currently living in Boston. She is a graduate of Emerson College and enjoys covering hockey, international sports tournaments, technology, history, science, and gender issues. You can find her on Twitter: @zoeclaire_