RIP the Lightweight mens 8 event


FISA announced the end of the Lightweight mens 8 event at the Rowing World Championships on its website today.

According to Rule 36 of the FISA Rule Book, an event that registers fewer than seven entries at three consecutive World Rowing Championship regattas is automatically removed from the World Championship programme. This has been the case for the lightweight men’s eight, which saw three boats competing at the 2013 World Rowing Championships, five in 2014 and five again in 2015.

This further reduces the number of athletes and events and seems to seal the fate of lightweights who want to compete internationally.  There are now only 7 sculling seats and 6 sweep seats for men and 7 sculling seats for women.

As one of the commentators on the FISA announcement says

This is an abomination. Rowing is the only strength oriented sport without a plethora of weight classes. Lightweight is very important, just as important as the women’s classes. As a lightweight, I feel discriminated against when there is no LMM2- class and I have to compete against rowers averaging 20 kg more.

Every regatta, from international to local, Masters on down, should have to offer all lightweight and women’s classes. It would be up to the organizers to combine classes if necessary.

At a recent regatta, my doubles partner and I checked the lightweight box, weighed in and raced together with the heavyweights but collected our medal as the best of the lightweights.

So, the key concept is to have a completely orthogonal division- lightweight/heavyweight, male/female, 1X, 2X, 2-, 4X, 4-, 8+. Every regatta HAS to offer all events. It would be up to the organizers how to put this together. This is the only way some of the “less popular” classes will develop. If there is, for example, a LMW2- event, there will be lightweight women who will be attracted to that event, rather than trying to get a seat in a four or eight. The sport of rowing as a whole will benefit.

Race formats need modernising

This is symptomatic of a wider issue in rowing – the sport is stuck in a time warp of 2000m only racing and allowing only a few specified crew classes.

Stanford University Lightweight Rowing Stanford University Lightweight Rowing

This decision risks a knock-on to club and university racing around the world – Oxford Cambridge Boat Race and USA domestic racing.

Cycling and Swimming have successfully reinvented themselves with mountain bike, new velodrome events and open water swimming at Olympic and World Championship events.

Why not rowing?

Stan Collingwood is a UK friend and longtime rowing advocate. Here’s what he said earlier in the year when the UK competition formats were up for debate and change.

All over the country whether head races or regattas events are over subscribed. Yet we remain loyal to the ‘Garton Calendar’ in the summer as the ‘holy grail’ of HRR must be sovereign as the aim of all seniors and the nat schools the juniors summit. But why do HORR slavishly bow down to tradition? For clubs, of course, the current situation is delightful as it means their event cash cows will deliver the maximum dividend. But have those that run things well thought of the potential if they ran some additional events?

But what about the competitors? Time for clubs, schools and coaches to speak out snd set up events to deal with the overflows, fill the gaps and compete with those events where cash comes before competitor. Regional Calendar supremos will, rightfully, complain if new events are registered on the same days as traditional events.

But in the real world why should market forces not apply in Rowing? Will Regional councils really resist new events that promote and expand our sport? And if they do will their resistance be supported at a national level?

We live in a capitalist market driven world. So let market forces dictate our calendar not tradition. There are many events that richly deserve to be shaken out of their current hubristic inertia.

But there are insufficient umpires I hear you cry! Indeed but hands up all the regional umpires commissions that actively recruit in schools and universities to increase the number and reduce the age? I thought not!!

In advance of the competitions reorganisation lets think hard about our competitors and innovate – even at the cost of a few cracked egos and dead sacred cows.

What is best for the sport of rowing?

Do we need gender equity?
Do we need diversity of weight classes?
Should we introduce a range of race distances?
Should points / accumulation events be held that test both sweep and sculling skill?
Could participation grow and audience enjoyment rise with different racing formats?

Let us know what you think in the comments. and whether a range of international race formats versus domestic race formats is also worth reviewing.


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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Robert Robertson

    The problem with lightweight rowing is that at the top level it is likely to be injurious to long term health because of starvation/dehydration to make the weight. Rowing is a sport of leverage therefore height is or should be the determinant of different classes of rowing. Rowers should be measured whist lying flat on their backs, much less easy to fiddle that way. This observation is based on a 35 year involvement in rowing with 33 of those years as an umpire.

    1. Rebecca Caroe

      Robert – your observations are very astute. Tell me more about what you think about measurement. Presumably you want to check height not weight?
      What sort of things do rowers “fiddle” with regard to weight measurement?

      I would very much like to do a follow up article – could I interview you?

  2. David Harralson

    Weight classes in any sport have the same constraints. If the athlete has the optimum physiological makeup, they are going to be competitive. The same height athlete but with a heavier bone structure is going to struggle. But, every field of athletics has this problem. Some athletes are going to be champions and similar ones are not. It cannot be helped.

    This is important to the athlete who is on the edge. The athlete, their family, coach, team, and national organization need to counsel on this issue. It is not worth it to compromise your long term health to make an artificial limit when often the athlete can be competitive in a different class. Often, this starts in high school when a string bean physique can make lightweight, but it becomes more and more difficult as they mature and fill out to their adult physique. It changes even more as they progress into Masters rowing.

    So, maybe a 6’3″ can make lightweight in high school, But, by the time they graduate college, it might be 6’1″. And there are not many 60+ year old Masters lightweights over 5’11”. Unless the youthful rower is very disciplined about their weight their entire life, it can be miserable always trying to lose that last kg or so.

  3. Bob the rower

    I agree that race formats need modernising especially if rowing is to continue to be an integral part of the Olympic programme, and this task lands firmly at the feet of FISA.

    With regards to the lightweight 8, the event was undersubscribed and didn’t promote competitiveness. The 2005 event was like a group of pandas, an embarrassment. FISA are right to drop it applying the same rules they did with the men’s coxed four.

    I can understand the grievance of federations that have supported this event and funded their athletes where others who could have afforded to haven’t. Although I cannot understand and support the grievance of lightweight athletes. As a lightweight there are seats available in what are competitive events, open only to those that can make the required maximum weight with no minimum weight requirement, 8 of which are Olympic class for men and women. Those that aren’t fortunate enough to be light enough have to make do with the 38 openweight men and women seats. Being openweight and not heavyweight these events are open to all. So this means lightweight athletes have a total of 46 Olympic rowing seats available to them. So why when there are so many seats available to lightweight athletes is there a problem with scrapping the lightweight mens 8?

    Is it because they aren’t competitive enough to compete in an open field where athletes are required to be the best they can be instead of advantaged because they fall within a strict guideline of body requirements?

    The athletics 100m final does not require an athlete to be a set weight, but it is clear that the event does suit certain body types and ethnicities. To police and divide the event and create different categories for the over 150kg and under 50kg, would devalue and discredit the event. We should want to see the best and this is what FISA have to promote especially to the IOC or risk having rowing phased out of the Olympics altogether. Rowing is not a combat sport where placing a 120kg athlete against a 60 kg athlete would be unsporting, but even in contact sports there is no weight classification.

    I would suggest part of the reason this event died out was because there were too many seats available to athletes lucky enough to make lightweight.

    Moving forward we should look to have more open weight events and different race formats which would create natural advantage to different athletes similar to athletics where 10km runners are different to that of 100m runners. I only use athletics as an example where by having different formats different athletes can thrive instead of rowing where one format is raced by some in lightweight and the same is raced by all in openweight.

  4. Cam

    I completely agree that rowing needs to look at different racing formats into the future. Swimming, cycling, track and field, kayaking….all direct competitors of rowing at a key Olympic sport level, and all over different distances/formats that cater for athletes of differing strengths and body types. Rowing will struggle to grow while traditional formats are the only ones being pushed at an international level. Why should an athlete who is strong over 500-1000m but weaker over 2000m be seen as a lesser rower?

    The other consideration is the cost of continuing to manufacture, then maintain traditional 2000m 8-lane rowing courses. I think rowing faces it’s biggest challenge at an Olympic level to convince organisers that the massive expense of creating our facilities is worthwhile, given the continued decline in nations bidding for large multi-sport events. We need to be flexible to survive, and thrive!

  5. Craig Allely

    FISA attempts to encourage the growth of Rowing in Asia and Africa then discourages it by deleting events ie Lightweight and womens If an event is not properly subscribed then FISA need to support more ie financially coacxhing boats ect.National Federations wont properly support events unless given full status a World Champs level.
    Any way the sport has plenty of sprint events and head races to support those who need a variation of events to watch.
    The lightweight class was born in the USA and based on the average weight of men entering the US Army in wwII
    It as an vehicle for competition for the average bloke and women ,do not not muck around with this basic principle

  6. Craig Allely

    The principal of more is best has been forgotten.More lightweights means more heavyweights (lightweights who cant make weight,Means more competitors ,more supporters ,administrators ,coaches,money,boats ,larger boatsheds.more Masters ect ect.
    Shrinkage creates smaller outcomes and a smaller FISA,my good thats unthinkable.

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