The biggest annual event in the rowing calendar is the World Rowing Championship regatta. This year, it's being held in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, from the 21st to the 28th August. The event is run over eight days on a progressive basis, from heats through to finals, ensuring that there are sufficient rest periods for athletes between the various boat classes.
As 2016 is an Olympic year, the Championships will include non-Olympic boat classes only, but in non-Olympic years, it features all 21 boat classes in its events, making the Championships the highlight of the Rowing calendar.
The nature of the competition has evolved since its inception at Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1962. Initially held on a 4 year basis, it became an annual event from 1974. Since 1996, on Olympic years, it's also held in conjunction with the World Junior Rowing Championships. And for the first time in 2016, it will also incorporate the World Rowing Under 23 Championships, a competition which was previously held on an annual basis, normally during July. But while the World Rowing Championship regatta as it is today is a relatively recent competition, its roots can be traced back much further.
FISA, the “Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron”, or as it is known in English, the International Federation of Rowing Associations, was founded in Europe in 1892, and is the oldest international sporting federation of any Olympic sport. A European championship had been held annually since 1892, and rowing would have been part of the first modern Olympic games in 1896, if it hadn't have been cancelled due to bad weather. However, the sport made its Olympic debut in 1900.
The sport of rowing dates back several centuries. The word 'Regatta' comes from an obsolete Italian word meaning 'fight' or 'contest', and the 17th Century Venetian festivals of the same name included boat races among other competitions. Modern day amateur competition began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with evidence of rowing clubs forming both in England and in the United States. Today, Great Britain and the United States are among many strong rowing countries including the Netherlands, Germany, France, Romania, Italy, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Increasing International Popularity
There are now 148 countries with rowing federations that participate in the sport. Since 1962, 23 countries have hosted the Championships across 4 continents. It normally takes place in late August at the end of the rowing season, but the dates do vary depending on the venue. Australia and New Zealand, the only two nations in the Southern Hemisphere to host the championships thus far, have both held the event at the end of October to the beginning of November.
Since 2002, the World Rowing Championships have included Adaptive Rowing categories for rowers with physical disabilities. Four boat classes for adaptive rowers are run, including mixed gender coxed 4 LTA (Legs, Trunk, Arms), Mixed gender Double Sculls TA (Trunk, Arms) mixed gender Double Sculls LTA, and Men’s and Women’s Single Sculls AS (Arms, Shoulders). The events have also been held at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics.
Fitness and training
Think of rowing, and most might think of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race, or consider it an exclusive sport reserved for private schools or universities. But while indoor rowing, using rowing machines or ergometers, is a fundamental part of an amateur rower's training regime, it's also an excellent all over body exercise for all ages. Rowing is one of the few non-weight bearing sports that give the whole body a good workout. For example, rowing a two kilometre race, either indoors on the ergometers or outdoors on the water, can be as strenuous as playing two basketball games, one after the other. The nature of the sport means that you're spreading the load throughout your entire body as you row.
As it is a low impact sport, it's easier on the joints, meaning that injuries tend to come about more through over training / exertion, or making an abrupt change to the training schedule. For example, extensor tenosynovitis of the wrist occurs more commonly in the spring when athletes return to rowing in the cold weather. This condition can be prevented by keeping hands and wrists warm while rowing on the water, using specially designed pogies, a glove system that wraps around both the oar and hand.
Another common injury which accounts for as much as 10% of all rowing injuries is a rib stress fracture. These mostly occur during the winter months, when rowers spend more time in intense training on the ergometers. The fractures are so small that they are rarely seen on normal x-rays but are no less painful. Prevention includes exercises to strengthen the core and upper back muscles. Other injuries to the torso include disc injuries in the lower back, which is typically treated and/or prevented with core stabilisation and flexibility exercises.
Knee pain can be a problem in rowers. Iliotibial band (ITB) friction syndrome is a complaint where the ITB, which normally slides along the outside of the knee when bending, becomes tight, causing inflammation and pain. While most rowing injuries can be treated with physiotherapy and rest, any kind of pain that may indicate a sports injury shouldn't be ignored, and advice on treatment and management should be sought immediately.
People tend to link rowers with their Olympic triumphs and few can be more notable than British rower Steve Redgrave, famed for having won gold medals at 5 consecutive Olympic Games. But like many successful rowers, he has also won multiple gold medals at the World Rowing Championships too - in the Men's 4 in 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, and in the Men's pairs in 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. He also made the finals in most years going back to 1980, when he won a silver in the Junior Men's Double Sculls in the World Junior Rowing Championships at age 18.
His rowing partner, Matthew Pinsent, made his World Junior Rowing Championships debut in 1987 at age 17, coming 4th in the final of the Junior Men's 8, and then followed up a year later with a gold medal in the Junior Men's pairs. He then went on to win gold medals every year at the event until 2003, except during Olympic years, when he was, of course, winning gold medals at the Olympics.
More recently, the British Women's pair, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, 2012 Olympic champions, took the gold in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 World Rowing Championships, and look set to continue to dominate.
Anyone can row
Aside from athletes achieving at top international level, rowing is a sport that is ideal for all ages and abilities. Boat clubs run summer and term-time courses for kids, and because of its low impact nature, the older generations often use rowing exercises as a part of - or even make them central to - their keep fit regime. With the sport's indoor equivalent on the ergometers, doing a rowing workout doesn't have to be restricted to riverside locations.
Far from the exclusive sport it has the reputation for being, the opportunities to try out rowing are more abundant than you might think. And with the current rowing luminaries to take inspiration from, the world can look forward to seeing the next generation of junior rowers coming through to compete in the World Rowing Championships.