MatchPint Olympics: Rowing and doing the hard yards
Rowing was first introduced at the Olympic Games in 1900 in Paris (where interestingly croquet and tug of war were also on the menu) after bad weather forced its cancellation in 1896. It has since developed into one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the Games, regarded as one of the toughest Olympic sports, demanding a huge amount of aerobic fitness, power and timing. It is both an individual battle with the self, and a collective, synchronised team effort against the elements.
Rowing can be divided into two categories; sculling (rowing with two oars) and single-oar rowing. Since 1976, rowing has become a mixed sport at the Olympic Games, and so the number of events has grown to 14, all of which are raced over a distance of 2,000m. They are as follows:
Men: Quad sculls, Double sculls, Single sculls, Eight, Cox-less fours and Cox-less pairs
Lightweight Men: Coxless four and Double sculls
Women: Quad sculls, Double sculls, Single scull, Eight and Cox-less pairs.
Light Women: Double sculls.
Great Olympic Rowing Moment:
There are fewer more iconic images of the Olympic Games than that of Sir Steve Redgrave hunched over his oar, shattered and gasping for air, having just secured his fifth gold medal in five consecutive games after a nail-biting final race at Sydney 2000. Redgrave, then aged 38 and competing in his final Olympics, proved to the world that diabetes and age were no obstacle in his pursuit of sporting immortality. Such is the nature of arguably the most aerobically demanding sport at the Games that it can produce heros of Adonis-like stature such as Redgrave, Cracknell and Pinsent; men who epitomise and embody the ability to peak when it really matters.
Redgrave’s story is an extraordinary one. Born in the sleepy riverside town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire, it is a lesson in hard work and dedication. Of course, he was blessed with natural assets; at his peak he stood at 1.95m tall and weighed more than a 100kg. But as every sportsman knows, natural talent - without work-rate and commitment along side it - is often wasted. By nature an introverted character, Redgrave relished the 6am starts on freezing February mornings, rowing alone on the river for up to 10 or 20km at a time. He didn’t need companionship; he had a boat, two oars and a dream.
The realisation of this dream was by no means straightforward, as Redrgrave found himself plagued by serious illness and disillusionment (he switched to bobsleigh for a period in the mid 80s) for much of his career. In 1992, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a seriously debilitating illness. Then in 1997, blood tests revealed he suffered from Type 1 diabetes; it was only with unparalleled will-power and careful man-management from his team that he was able to carry on training for Sydney 2000. The fact that he still became only the fourth Olympian in the history of the Games to win five gold medals at five consecutive Olympics gives a whole new meaning to the notion of overcoming adversity on the path to glory. He has set a benchmark to which all current, and future, Olympic oarsmen and women will inevitably be compared.
That said, Pinsent wasn't soo bad. We could have put up any number of Redgrave videos but this, the coxless four final from Athens in 2004, an Pinsent's 4th Gold Medal, rivals any event for a thrilling finish:
So what does it take to be a great Olympic rower?
1. Size - Long levers are essential for generating power and for efficient stroke making. The average size of a male rower competing at Beijing in 2008 was 1.88m.
2. Endurance - Professional rowers have roughly four times the lung capacity of a normal human being and are quite frankly aerobic monsters.
3. Love early mornings - Training often starts at 6am or earlier, with hardly any respite over a twelve month calendar year. There is very little fame or money in rowing, so the motivation for success must come from within. You have to really want to row to thrive at the top level.
4. Desire - Races are often decided by tenths of seconds; determination and will can prove the difference in tight races for which training can only take you so far.
Teams to watch out for:
GB - As an island nation, oarsmanship and seamanship have always been ingrained in our culture, and as a result, Britain consistently fields a strong squad for the rowing at every Olympics. Watch out for the coxless fours in particular.
Australia - Always a competitive rowing nation, expect another strong showing from the Aussies on the Eton Lake after a successful outing at the World Championships last year.
Romania - The Danube has proved a fertile training ground for this relatively small Eastern European country. At Sydney 2000, they topped the medal table with three golds and are looking strong for London.
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