Rowing

Australia and Olympic Rowing

Australia first sent rowers to the Olympics at Stockholm in 1912. The team of the eight who had won the Henley Regatta en route to Sweden qualified Australia's first team, but a change of personnel between Henley and Stockholm resulted in the crew losing some form and it missed a medal, whilst the British crew that they defeated at Henley won the gold.

Australia has forged a very proud history in Olympic rowing, particular in the sculling events. The legendary Henry ‘Bobby’ Pearce won the single sculls at Amsterdam 1928 and Los Angeles 1932. Mervyn Wood won the single sculls at London in 1948 and finished second at Helsinki four years later.

At the Melbourne 1956 Games, Wood and Murray Riley won the bronze medal in the double sculls. Wood is the only person to carry the Australian flag at two opening ceremonies, in Helsinki and Melbourne. In Melbourne Stuart Mackenzie finished second in the single sculls behind the great Vyacheslav Ivanov of the USSR. Mackenzie then proceeded to win the Diamond Sculls at Henley, arguably the unofficial World Championship at the time, for six consecutive years from 1957.

Australia’s first medal (a bronze) by a sweep-oared boat came with the eights in Helsinki 1952. The eights won bronze medals again at Melbourne 1956, Los Angeles 1984, Athens 2004 and silver medals at Mexico City 1968 and Sydney 2000. Australia’s women rowers first won a medal, a bronze, at Los Angeles 1984 by the coxed four. Megan Marcks (then Still) and Kate Allen (then Slatter) won a gold medal in the coxless pairs in Atlanta 1996 and Slatter joined with Rachael Taylor to finish second in the same event in 2000. 

The famous “Oarsome Foursome”  won the coxless fours in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta 1996, thereby becoming the first Australian sweep-oared crew to win an Olympic title.

At the London Games in 2012 Drew Ginn who was part of the crew in 1996 combined with Josh Dunkley-Smith, Will Lockwood and James Chapman to win silver after a hard fought battle with hosts Great Britain. It was Ginn’s fourth Olympic medal and this combined with his previous three gold confirmed his place as Australia’s greatest rower.

Ginn's 1996 teammates Tomkins and Mike McKay also have won four medals each. Tomkins won gold medals as part of the "Oarsome Foursome" in Barcelona and Atlanta and with Ginn in the men's pair in Athens and a bronze medal with Matthew Long in the men's pair in Sydney. McKay also won gold medals as part of the “Oarsome Foursome” in 1992 and 1996, and silver and bronze medals in the eights in Sydney and Athens respectively.

Tomkins and Ginn combined again to win the men's coxless pairs at Athens 2004. At the Beijing Games in 2008, Ginn partnered with Duncan Free to win back-to-back titles. Ginn only missed Sydney 2000 through injury.

At Beijing 2008, Scott Brennan and David Crawshay won gold in the double sculls, while Kim Brennan (then Crow) was the standout for Australia at the London 2012 Games as she claimed silver in the women’s double sculls with Brooke Pratley and bronze in the single sculls. Kate Hornsey and Sarah Tait rowed superbly at London to take home silver in the pair. 

London silver medallist Brennan competed at her third Games at Rio 2016, breaking Australia’s gold medal rowing draught when she won gold in the women’s single sculls. The last time any Australian woman won an Olympic gold medal in rowing was in the women’s pair from the 1996 Atlanta Games. Brennan now owns a complete set of medals after bringing home silver and bronze from London.

The Olympic rowing regattas between 1996 and 2016 confirmed Australia’s position as a power in world rowing. Besides the medals listed previously, the men’s coxless pair (silver) and quadruple sculls (bronze) won medals in Atlanta. In Sydney, the men’s lightweight coxless four (silver), coxless pair (bronze) and coxless four (bronze) won medals.

In Athens the men's lightweight coxless four finished second and the women's quadruple sculls finished third. In Beijing as well as gold in the men's pair and double scull, the men's four of James Marburg, Matt Ryan, Cameron McKenzie-McHarg and Frances Hegerty won a surprise silver. Four years later in London the men’s quad scull crew of Karsten Forsterling, James McRae, Chris Morgan and Dan Noonan won bronze.

Joining Brennan on the podium at Rio 2016 were men’s quadruple sculls and the men’s four crews. The men’s quadruple sculls of James McRae, Cameron Girdlestone, Alexander Belonogoff and Karsten Forsterling upgraded Australia’s London 2012 bronze medal to a silver after a hard fought battle with the German crew who claimed back-to-back titles. Australia’s men’s four of Alex Hill, Josh Booth, Josh Dunkley-Smith and Will Lockwood battled valiantly with Great Britain in their final with the British coming out the ultimate victors and Australia winning silver.

Olympic History

Rowing was scheduled to appear at Athens in 1896 but bad weather caused its cancellation. It made its Olympic debut at Paris 1900. The seating configurations of the boats in the Olympic regatta have changed a number of times since then.

Women’s rowing was introduced at the Olympics at Montreal 1976 and lightweight rowing, for men and women, was introduced at Atlanta 1996.

Sport Format

In Olympic rowing 14 different boat classes are raced. Eight sculling events in which two oars are used, one in each hand and six sweep-oared events in which the rower uses one oar with both hands. The sculling boat classes are the single, the double and the quadruple sculls with crews of one, two or four athletes respectively, as well as the lightweight double. The sweep rowing categories include the pair, the four, the lightweight four (for men only) and the eight with coxswain, which is perhaps the most spectacular rowing event of all.

For the lightweight events (the lightweight women’s double and the lightweight men’s double and four) the average weight of a men’s crew must not exceed 70kg with the maximum weight for crew members being 72.5kg, for women the average weight of a crew must not exceed 57kg with the maximum weight for crew members being 59kg. All races cover a distance of 2000 metres.

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