Olympics Summer

Need To Know: Rowing

How do the Canadian men's and women's eight boats stack up in the sport's glamour events? Can Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder repeat as Olympic medallists?
The Canadian pair of Dave Calder, left, and Scott Frandsen won Canada's first medal of the Beijing Olympics, and they'll contend again in London. (Jure Makovec/AFP/Getty Images)

Fast Facts

Dates: July 28-Aug. 4

Venue: Eton Dorney Rowing Centre (Buckinghamshire)

Medal Events: 14 (8 men's, 6 women's)

Athletes: 550

The Basics

There are two basic kinds of rowing races: sculls and sweeps. In sculls, each rower has two oars (one in each hand). In sweep rowing, it's one oar.

Boats can contain as few as one competitor (the single sculls event) and as many as nine (in the coxed eight, a coxswain sits at the stern of the boat and is responsible for both steering and directing the crew with voice commands), with pairs and fours in between.

There are also lightweight races, in which weight limits are imposed on each athlete (130 pounds for women, 160 for men). All races are 2,000 metres long, with six lanes used.

Each competition begins with heats. The top boats advance, while the rest are relegated to the repechage round, where they get a second chance to move on.

Successful rowers boast a rare combination of power and stamina. Technique is also vital, along with teamwork and timing in boats with multiple rowers.

Canadian Athletes To Watch

After winning four medals in Beijing, the Canadian rowing team has a boat entered in seven of the 14 races in London (Germany is the only country with entries in all 14, while Australia and Great Britain have 13 apiece). Five of the Canadian boats are in the men's division (coxless pair, coxless four, double sculls, lightweight double sculls, and eight) and two in the women's (lightweight double sculls and eight).

The women's eight missed the podium in Beijing by about half a second, finishing fourth. More recently, the squad has been a regular on the medal stand, winning silver at the world championships in both '10 and '11, and adding a silver and a gold in its two World Cup events this season. In London, they'll have to overtake the powerful U.S. team for gold. The Americans (who beat Canada by just 0.03 of a second to win the World Cup race in Lucerne this season, and didn't compete in the race in Germany that Canada won) have owned the top of the podium in every season's top competition (worlds or Olympics) for the past six years.

The men's eight crew are the defending Olympic champions, but they won't be favoured for gold in London. Canada dropped to second place at the 2009 world championships, then plummeted to seventh in 2010 before rebounding for a bronze last year. The guys could be rounding into form: they set a wind-aided world record during the heats at the Lucerne World Cup in late May, and took bronze in the final behind the powerhouse German team that has won all three world titles since the Beijing Olympics, and the rival United States.

Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder won Canada's first medal of the Beijing Olympics — a silver in the men's pair. Frandsen then retired, only to get the itch to come back and take another shot at gold in London. He reunited with Calder for a fifth-place finish at the 2011 world championships, and the pair looks to have rediscovered its old rhythm this season: they finished second at the stacked Lucerne World Cup, and Frandsen wrote in one of his fine blogs for us that he's feeling fitter than ever.

The women's lightweight double sculls boat was thrown inton disarray with the sudden retirement of Tracy Cameron. Cameron captured bronze in Beijing with Melanie Kok, then switched partners and won the 2010 world title with Lindsay Jennerich, who went on to take silver at the 2011 worlds with Patricia Obee while Cameron was out with an injury. Cameron and Jennerich were put back together for the London Olympics, but soon after they missed the "A" final at the Lucerne World Cup in late May, Cameron abruptly walked away from her Olympic spot. She later told CBC, "I knew I could no longer go to the line with a partner who I didn't believe exemplified Olympic values. It was a really, really hard thing for me to take and decide on, but the chemistry was no longer there." Jennerich will now row with Obee.

International Athletes To Watch

An interesting race is shaping up in rowing's glamour event, with as many as four boats fighting for gold in the men's eight. The tale of the tape: Canada is the defending champion. Germany has won the last three world titles. Great Britain was the runner-up at the last two worlds and the 2008 Olympics, and owns the home-water and home-crowd advantages in a country that gave birth to modern rowing competition with the first annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race in 1829. Plus, don't count out the United States — the Beijing bronze medallists have fallen off the podium at recent world championships, but they had a strong showing at the Lucerne World Cup in late May.

In the women's eight, everyone is gunning for the U.S., which has won the world's top competition (worlds or Olympics) six years running. Canada represents the Americans' most consistent challenger, having placed second at each of the last two world championships.

Prefer the smaller boats? Keep an eye on Norway's Olaf Tufte, who's trying for his third consecutive Olympic gold in the men's single sculls (the 36-year-old also won a silver in the double sculls in 2000).

Canada's Medal Outlook

Equalling the four medals from Beijing would be a terrific showing, but two or three seems like a better bet. Count on the men's and women's eights, and the Scott Frandsen-Dave Calder pair to contend.