images of Rowing

Olympic Sports


Legendary displays of strength and stamina can be seen in the only sport where competitors cross the finish line backwards.


Rowing involves propelling a boat using oars along a 2,000-metre straight-line course. Unlike canoeing, where athletes face forward, rowers sit with their backs to the direction of movement. They have their feet secured to the boat while their seat slides backwards and forwards along rails as they pull on the oars.

Although its history dates back centuries, rowing only came of age as a competitive sport in the last 200 years. Interest began to increase after Oxford and Cambridge Universities began their famous rivalry on the River Thames in London in 1829, a rivalry that continues today in the shape of the annual Boat Race. Rowing has been staged at every Games since making its debut on the Olympic programme in 1900 in Paris, after the rowing event at the 1896 Games was cancelled due to bad weather. Women's events were introduced at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

Rowing is broadly classified into sculling and sweep events. Sculling involves holding one oar in each hand, while in sweep events a single oar is held with both hands.

Sculling events include the single, double and quadruple sculls, while sweep events include the pairs, fours and eights. Only the eights have a coxswain, who steers the boat, while the other two events are coxless. There is one lightweight event for men and one for women. The lightweight category for men requires that crews have an average weight of 70kg or lighter and no rower may weigh over 72.5kg; for female crews the maximum average weight is 57kg and no rower may weigh over 59kg.

There will be seven men's and seven women's events in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic regatta.

International Federation: World Rowing Federation (FISA)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

  • Single Sculls (1x) (Men/Women)
  • Pair (2-) (Men/Women)
  • Double Sculls (2x) (Men/Women)
  • Four (4-) (Men/Women)
  • Quadruple Sculls (4x) (Men/Women)
  • Eight (8+) (Men/Women)
  • Lightweight Double Sculls (2x) (Men/Women)


Relentless rhythm from start to finish


As well as immense physical fitness, success in rowing is also down to technique and teamwork to gain the maximum speed and distance out of every stroke. A rower or team must time their race to perfection, ensuring they have enough energy left for a fighting finish.

In eights racing the coxswain plays an important role, steering the boat and looking out for the tactics of rival boats while also giving instructions to his or her crew in order to be ready for the final spurt to the line.

As an outdoor sport, the weather and state of the water are factors that crews must contend with to achieve their best performance. Unsafe or unfair conditions due to high waves or strong winds may lead officials to postpone a day's rowing and reschedule to when conditions are more favourable.

Qualification is based on performances at the World Rowing Championships and Continental Qualification regattas in the year leading to the Olympics. All events include a repechage – a round of racing after the heats that essentially allows boats a second chance to qualify for the quarter-finals, semi-finals or finals.


Strength in depth


New Zealand, Great Britain and Germany are the leading Olympic Rowing nations, while Australia and the United States have a strong pedigree.

At the Rio 2016 Games, Germany took gold in both the men's and women's quadruple sculls – the men's for the second time in succession – as well as winning silver in the men's eights.

Some countries have an affinity for particular events. Great Britain, for example, has won the men's coxless four five times in a row since Sydney 2000, while Rio 2016 runner-up Australia won silver for the third time in succession.

In the blue riband men's eights, the competition is always fierce with the USA, Canada, Germany and Great Britain each taking gold once in the last four Games, showing just how difficult it is to win even twice in a row.

In women's rowing, Great Britain has been stronger than Germany, taking gold in the coxless pair at Rio 2016 and silver in both the eights and double sculls. In London 2012, Great Britain boasted three gold medallists.

Emerging nations include South Africa and China, both of whom have shown increasingly strong form in recent years.



One of the rowers from the Dutch rowing team won the coxed pair in the Paris 1900 Games and is thought to be the youngest Olympic Champion. However, his name is unknown. Why?


A:As the original coxswain was too heavy, a young boy, aged no more than 12, was asked to stand in. After the race was over, he left the venue without anyone finding out his name.

As of 1 Dec. 2018

Competition Venues

  • Sea Forest Waterway

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