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“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing
We Actually Row!”

“We Don’t Just Talk About Rowing – We Actually Row!”

When Did Rowing Start in the Olympic Games?

when did rowing start

Are you a fan of the Olympics? What about rowing as an event in the Olympics? Did you know that rowing has not only been in the Olympics for quite some time, but it is also one of the oldest sports in the world?

The oldest written record of competitive rowing was in 1430 BC in ancient Egypt. In the modern world, the first rowing race took place in 1715 on the River Thames in England. It was in 1900 when rowing events were included in the Olympic Games in Paris.

If you didn’t know that, I’m not surprised, many people don’t. So keep reading! Let’s get up to speed on just how old rowing is and why it’s still one of the best and oldest games at the Olympics.

Is Rowing the Oldest Sport in the World?

Eton Beating Westminster in rowing 1836

Eton Beating Westminster, Staines Bridge, May 12th, 1836 by Unknown Author

It’s difficult to say that rowing is THE oldest sport, but if it isn’t the oldest, it’s one of the top contenders.

You can imagine people pushing or rowing rafts to transport people and goods across lakes and other bodies of water.

From there, it’s easy to see how each boat would boast that they had the fastest rowers so your goods or your family could reach the other side before everyone else.

What started as a means of moving people and goods soon became a contest, and the sport of rowing was born.

What Is the Earliest Mention of Rowing?

I believe the oldest written record of rowing was an Egyptian funeral inscription from 1430 BC, stating that the warrior Amenhotep II was renowned for his feats as an oarsman.

Ancient Rowing Photo

There is also a mention of a race in The Aeneid, written between 30 and 19 BC by Virgil, which describes a rowing competition between the Greek fleet and the citizens of Troy.

Fast forward to the modern times. The earliest race in the English-speaking world occurred about 1715. This 4-mile race was called the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, which took place on the River Thames in England in 1715 and many years henceforth.

When Were the First Olympic Games?

The ancient Greeks held what was known as summer games or Panhellenic Games in Olympia, Greece. These games occurred every 4 years from the 8th through the 4th century BC.

In these times, the games were held to honor Zeus. The last known games were held in 393 BC, but they might have been held later on. It’s also possible that the games may have moved to another location after a fire burned down the temple of Zeus.

There were far fewer sports than in modern-day Olympics, and it doesn’t appear as if rowing was one of them.

When Was Rowing First Allowed at the Olympics?

The first modern Olympics of 1896 included rowing, but bad weather forced them to cancel it.

Can you imagine working and training for the Olympics only to find that the weather prevented you from competing? I bet there were lots of disappointed athletes that year!

Rowing men's eight USA 1900

Men’s eight rowing team at the 1900 Olympic Games photography by User:FreeMO

However, in 1900, the Olympic Games held in Paris, France did have Olympic rowing contests!

Only men were allowed to compete until the games in Montreal in 1976.

In 1996, lightweight oarsmen gained their own rowing class and were allowed to compete.

What Is Olympic Rowing Called?

Is rowing called something else at the Olympics?

No. You may hear the term “crew” or “crewing” at organized collegiate sport events, but at most regattas and the Olympic games, you will hear this sport called rowing.

While there are two distinct disciplines of rowing—sweep rowing and sculling races — when it comes to the Olympics, you will hear the announcer simply talk about rowing.

Don’t let the term crewing or crew confuse you. It’s still rowing, only that it is the term mostly used in US college games.

What Is the Fastest Rowing Boat in the Olympics?

The fastest rowing boat in the Olympic Games is the US Men’s Eight in sweep rowing. In the semifinal round of the 2004 Rowing Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the US Men’s Coxed 8 team recorded the world’s best time of 5:19.85 for the 2,000-m race.

While this was faster than their finishing time in the final round, they still bested other boats and won the gold in the finals, the first time for the US team since 1964.

What Is the Oldest Rowing Event That Is Still Held Today?

The Henley Royal Regatta in England, which first took place in 1839, is the oldest rowing event that is still being raced until now. It is older than the Olympics and is the oldest and best known head race in the world.

In fact, Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin designed the modern-day Olympic rowing games after the Henley Royal Regatta.

finish line of the 1895 Henley Royal Regatta

Finish line of the 1895 Henley Royal Regatta
By Young, Charles Van Patten (1907)

While Doggett’s Coat and Badge traces its roots back to at least 1715, meaning it’s older, there isn’t much that we know about these regattas. Its timeline shows 2005 as the last recorded race.

The Henley Royal Regatta is considered part of the high summer season, and there is a strict dress code. The head race lasts for 5 days and is usually held annually at the end of June or the first part of July.

What Country Is Best at Rowing?

I suppose that if you asked 25 people from 25 different countries, you would get 25 different answers! Everyone wants to think that their country is the best and in their own way, I suppose they are.

If you want to judge “the best” by the number of gold medals won in the Olympics, then America would take the lead.

coxed eight in training

As of 2016, the USA had 33 gold medals in rowing, but during the 2020/2021 games in Tokyo, it was the host country Japan that dominated the rowing competitions.

However, if you look at other countries, you will see that Germany has long held first place in other regattas around the world, with Great Britain and New Zealand right on their heels.

The Bottom Line

I bet you had no idea that competitive rowing was so old!

Rowing is one of the most physically challenging sports since it uses about 86 percent of the muscles in the body.

While other sports may require that a person take a beating (football, rugby, soccer), rowing is by far one of the most demanding sports ever.

The history of rowing is ancient and fascinating, and since the sport began, people just can’t seem to get enough of it!

I’m sure you will never think of rowing again without picturing ancient Egyptians rowing their boats to victory, or your ancestors pushing themselves towards the finish line. I can’t help but think about all the history of rowing just a bit with every regatta I attend.

I hope you found this article interesting. On to more years of rowing ahead of us!