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Summer Olympics Rowing: A History

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The 2012 London Summer Olympic Games are almost here and rowing will be among the featured sports.

About the Sport

Per the 2012 London Olympics' official website, individuals or teams competing in the rowing events will use oars to power their sleek, canoe like boats 2,000 meters (approximately 2187.2 yards) to the finish line ahead of any competitors. Depending on the event, an athlete might use either one or two oars. Competitors who use two paddles (one in each hand) are called scullers. All of the rowing contests will take place at Eton College Rowing Center (Dorney Lake), which per the 2012 Olympics' website, is about "25 miles west of London."

The sport demands a lot from its athletes. USRowing notes that competitors not only need to be physically strong, they also must possess, among other things, "aerobic ability, technical talent, exceptional mental discipline … and pain tolerance."

Rowing's History as an Olympic Sport

According to the International Olympic Committee's official website, rowing was a popular sport in Europe in the 1800s and rowing events were scheduled as part of the first Summer Olympic Games in 1896. However, bad weather "compelled the organisers [sic] to cancel the [rowing] events." The sport made its debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris (per the London Olympics' site). The BBC notes that out of the 14 current events, only two of them--men's single sculls and men's eight--were part of the Paris Olympics. Three of the other rowing competitions (all men's events) were introduced at the 1904 Summer Games.

Per the International Olympic Committee, women's rowing was added to the Olympic program at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics, and the men's and women's lightweight events were first included at the Atlanta Games in 1996.

Medal Winners

Per the International Olympic Committee's site, the United States "dominated Olympic rowing" up until the 1960s when athletes from the Soviet Union replaced the Americans as the dominant force at the Summer Games' rowing events. East Germany supplanted the Soviet Union as the best in the sport in the 1970s and 1980s. "The reunified German team is [still] among the best in the world;" however, German rowers do have some stiff competition.

Per a BBC Olympic guide, Great Britain (six medals) and Canada (four medals) took home the most rowing medals at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The United States, New Zealand, and Australia were the next best finishers with three medals each. The Germans, on the other hand, only captured two rowing medals in Beijing. According to NBC, since 1900, the Germans have won the most rowing medals (94), followed closely by the United States (84 medals). Great Britain (54 medals) is third.

Per the International Olympic Committee's site, the best Olympic male rower of all time is Steven Redgrave of Great Britain, who "won gold medals at five Olympic Games." Elisabeta Lipa of Romania is his "female counterpart." She "won five Olympic gold medals between 1984 and 2004."

Future of Rowing as an Olympic Sport

Rowing has been a staple of the Summer Olympics since 1900. The sport has a rich history and a devoted following. I could not find any documents indicating that rowing is in danger of being removed as an Olympic sport.

More from this contributor:

Summer Olympics Synchronized Swimming: A History

Summer Olympics Synchronized Swimming: 10 Terms Every Fan Should Know

Summer Olympics Synchronized Swimming: 10 Rules Every Fan Should Know

The author is a freelance writer who happens to be an avid sports fan. He is not affiliated with any Olympic organizations or rowing teams.

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