Olympics 2012: a beginner’s guide to rowing

The low-down on the format, tactics and physical pain that must be endured by the rowers competing in London 2012


Rowing comes in two forms: sculls, where each rower pulls two oars; and sweeps, where each rower pulls one oar. Sculls can be singles, doubles or quads, while sweeps are raced by pairs, fours or eights. The eights also have a cox calling the stroke rate. What all these formats deliver is an amazing spectacle of pain and endurance over 2,000 metres of agony. Rowers face backwards, so a tactical and psychological advantage is gained by being in front from the start. They must begin with an explosive sprint, flooding their body with lactic acid, which means their muscles burn throughout the race.


Rowing is a sport of strategic physiology in which athletes must decide how much acid and pain they can carry through the race in return for being in front. Accelerating over the last 500m the rowers drive themselves so hard that, if correctly timed, their final stroke is the last they are able to pull. David Goldblatt

Law & Oarder


Katherine Grainger (left), a three-time Olympic silver medallist, was on the verge of retiring after Beijing. But she was persuaded to carry on, and is now in a double with Anna Watkins (far left), to whom she’ll pass the baton as the leading British sculler after London. Grainger, 36, has a degree and Masters in law, and juggles rowing with studying homicide for a PhD. Garry Herbert