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Rowing 101

The Basics

Rowing is a sport that is both ancient and modern. With origins in Ancient Egypt from 3,000 BC, it has featured prominently in every modern Olympics from Athens in 1896 to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The United States is consistently one of the preeminent national rowing teams in the world, most recently winning gold in the women’s eights in the Summer Olympics 2012 in London.

Rowing is often called “crew” (derived from the nautical term for people who operate a boat), and is based on propelling a boat (“racing shell”) on water using oars. There are several boat classes, ranging from an individual shell (a “single scull”) to an eight person shell with a coxswain (aka "cox").

Sculling and Sweep Rowing

There are two ways to move a boat across the water. A rower can use a single oar to move the boat (along with at least one other rower) or the rower can use two oars at the same time. Rowers with a single oar are SWEEP rowing; rowers using two oars at the same time are SCULLING. This is the basic difference between the two types of rowing. The one additional difference that’s worth noting between the two types of rowing is the coxswain.  A coxswain (pronounced “cox-in” and often referred to as the "cox") is the person in a sweep boat who never uses an oar, but is the pace-setter, race strategist and steers the boat. When the boat is on the water with a cox on board, the cox is in charge!

Sweep rowers come in pairs with a coxswain (2+) and pairs without (2-), fours with a coxswain (4+) and fours without (4-) and the eight (8+), which always carries a coxswain. The eight is the fastest boat on the water. A world-level men's eight is capable of moving almost 14 miles per hour. Athletes with two oars – one in each hand – are scullers. Scullers row in three types of events: Single (1x - one person), Double (2x - two rowers) and the Quad (4x - four rowers in the boat).

Rowers are identified by their seat in the boat. For example, in an 8 the athlete in the bow is seat No. 1. That's the person who crosses the finish line first (which makes it easy to remember – first across the line is No. 1 seat). The person next to the bow is No. 2, then No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8, (aka "the stroke"). The stroke of the boat must be a strong rower with excellent technique, since the stroke sets the rhythm and number of strokes per minute the rest of the crew must follow.

CJC offers rowers the opportunity to row in either type of boat.

Sweep - Coxed Four (4+)

Sculling - Quad (4x)

Lightweight and Open Weight

Rowers compete in two categories: Lightweight and Open Weight. An athlete of any weight can enter the open categories. Lightweight men cannot weigh more than 150 pounds. Lightweight women cannot weight more than 130 pounds.

Lightweights row the same events as open weight athletes, except that other than the men's lightweight eight, they do not carry coxswains, so there is no lightweight 2+ or 4+.

Quick Facts

  • Rowing is one of the original sports in the modern Olympic Games.

  • Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, was a rower.

  • Rowers are the third largest U.S. delegation (48 athletes) to the Olympic Games.

  • Eight-oared shells are about 60-feet long - that’s 20 yards on a football field or roughly the height of a five story building.

  • Rowing was the first intercollegiate sport contested in the United States. The first rowing race was between Harvard and Yale in 1852.

  • Physiologically, rowers are superb examples of physical conditioning. Cross-country skiers and long distance speed skaters are comparable in terms of the physical demands the sport places on the athletes.

  • An eight, which carries more than three-quarters of a ton (1,750 pounds), may weigh as little as 200 pounds. The boats are made of fiberglass composite material.

  • Singles may be as narrow as 10 inches across, weigh only 23 pounds, and stretch nearly 27-feet long.

  • The first rowing club in the U.S. was the Detroit Boat Club, founded in 1839.

  • The first amateur sport organization was a rowing club - Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Navy, founded in 1858.

  • From 1920 until 1956, the USA won the gold medal in the men’s eight at every Olympic Games.

  • The first national governing body for a sport in the United States was for rowing. Founded as the National Association for Amateur Oarsmen in 1872, it was changed in 1982 to the United States Rowing Association.

  • Yale College founded the first collegiate boat club in the U.S. in 1843.

  • FISA, the first international sports federation, was founded in 1892.

  • Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous baby doctor, was an Olympic rower in 1924 and won a gold medal in the eight. Gregory Peck rowed at the University of California in 1937.

  • Physiologists claim that rowing a 2,000-meter race - equivalent to 1.25 miles - is equal to playing back-to-back basketball games.

  • In 1997, Jamie Koven became the first American to win the men’s single sculls at the world championships since 1966.

  • In 1999, the U.S. men’s eight won its third consecutive gold medal at the world championships, a first in U.S. history.

  • In 2004, the U.S. men's eight won gold at the Olympic Games.

  • In 2008, the U.S. won gold in the women's eight at the Olympic Games.

  • At the 2012 London Olympic Games, the U.S. women's eight won gold. At the Paralympics, the U.S. won bronze in the trunk and arms mixed double, a first in U.S. history.

  • In 2013, at the World Rowing Championships the U.S. women's eight won gold and extended its streak of eight consecutive world or Olympic titles. The U.S. won eight total medals in the event, including gold in the women's four, bronze in the men's eight and four and silver in the lightweight women's double sculls.