What is Olympic Rowing?

The Basics of Olympic Rowing

United States celebrate after winning the gold medal for the Women's Eight rowing on Day 6 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Eton Dorney on August 2, 2012 in Windsor, England.
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What is Olympic Rowing? Rowing is one of the oldest competitive team sports in history. Originally established as a means of transportation, the other benefits that could be found through rowing have been celebrated for centuries. Rowing was actually on the schedule of events for the first Olympics of modern times in 1896. but poor weather prevented it from being contested. Olympic Rowing would make its debut in the Paris Summer Olympics of 1900.


In today’s Olympics, men and women compete in 14 different Olympic Rowing events:

Men’s Rowing Scull Events:

  • Single Sculls (1x) Men
  • Double Sculls (2x) Men
  • Lightweight Double Sculls (2x) Men
  • Quadruple Sculls without Coxswain (4x) Men

Men’s Rowing Sweep Events:

  • Coxless Pair (2-) Men
  • Four without Coxswain (4-) Men
  • Lightweight Coxless Four (4-) Men
  • Eight with Coxswain (8+) Men

Women’s Rowing Scull Events:

  • Single Sculls (1x) Women
  • Double Sculls (2x) Women
  • Lightweight Double Sculls (2x) Women
  • Quadruple Sculls without Coxswain (4x) Women

Women’s Rowing Sweep Events:

  • Pair without Coxswain (2-) Women
  • Eight with Coxswain (8+) Women

Olympic Rowing: Sweep and Sculling Events

There are many different facets to Olympic Rowing. Events can be either “sweep” or “sculling” races, with or without “coxswain,” and lightweight or open weight. Each event has a different number of oarsmen in the boat and there are separate events for men and for women.

“Sweep” races signify the fact that each rower has both hands on one oar. “Sculling” refers to the use of 2 oars, one in each hand, by each rower. The “coxswain” is the person who sits in the boat and directs the rhythm of the rowing crew as well as steers the boat. There may or may not be a “coxswain” in the boat depending on the race.


Olympic Rowing uses the following equipment:

  • Shell: The rowing term for the boat which is used in rowing competitions.
  • Sculling Boat: The shell in which rowers sit and row with a separate oar in each hand.
  • Sweep-oar Boat: The shell in which rowers sit and row with only one oar.
  • Oar: The device that a rower uses to propel the boat through the water
  • Blade: The part of the oar that is attached to the loom and makes contact with the water
  • Handle: The part of the paddle is held by the oarsman and is attached to the loom.
  • Loom: The shaft of the oar. Located between the blade and the handle.
  • Outrigger or Rigger: An external frame that attaches to and extends past the boat to support the oar.
  • Rowlock or Oarlock: The place on the boat where the oar is fastened. It serves as the pivot for the oar.
  • Fin or Skeg: A flat protrusion on the bottom of the shell to help the boat track (go) straight.
  • Cox Box: An electronic device that measures the stroke rate and time as well as serves as an amplification device for the coxswain to communicate with the rowers.


The Olympic Rowing Competitions are won by the person or team who reaches the finish line of a 2000 meter long unobstructed course in the shortest amount of time possible.

Rowers start off in lanes but are not required to stay in those lanes for the duration of the race. The beginning of the race is an actual all out sprint. The rowers then settle into a rhythm and then do what they need to win at the end of the race. The winning crews (teams) actually paddle their shells right up to the award ceremony. Upon receiving their medals, they get back into their shell and row off into the sunset. Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals are awarded to crews in all Olympic Rowing Events.

Read more about Olympic Rowing Rules & Scoring.

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Sayour, George. "What is Olympic Rowing?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-olympic-rowing-2555861. Sayour, George. (2016, August 31). What is Olympic Rowing? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-olympic-rowing-2555861 Sayour, George. "What is Olympic Rowing?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-olympic-rowing-2555861 (accessed November 19, 2017).