The Hardest Rowing Race in the World

The crew from Germany won the 2019 SH Netz Cup. Photo from SH Netz Cup website.

10 October 2019

By Larry Fogelberg

This year’s Netz Cup Race in Germany, during the first weekend in September, caused a lot of activity on rowing social media when two rowers collapsed during the 12.7 km long race. Here Larry Fogelberg writes about ‘the hardest rowing race in the world’.

Many believe that the Schleswig-Holstein Netz-Cup Race, also called the Canal Cup, is the hardest race in the world. This marathon race is 12.7 kilometers on a canal from the North Sea to the Baltic, ending near Rendsburg, Germany. The canal is for ocean-going vessels and is a little over 100 metres wide.

The eights competing in this race are not club crews out for a challenging long haul, instead it’s the best national eights. In the 2019 race, the crews came from Great Britain, USA, the Netherlands and Germany. They had competed in the World Cup regatta in Linz, Austria, just a week prior to the Canal Cup race. The choice of starting lanes is decided by the crews competing on ergometers – the fastest crew having first choice.

One could imagine that such a race would have a less formal start, but no, there is a starting dock anchored in the canal, the boats line up next to each other, waiting for the command. And then they are off.

These crews know only one way of racing, a high-rating start, maybe not quite as fierce as for the standard 2,000-metre distance, but they give their best for the whole course. The crews know their opposition, they know that they cannot hope that the others will weaken, letting them conserve their strength to overtake them several kilometers down the course. As 2,000-metre “sprinters”, do they even know how to do less than give their everything with each and every stroke? But for how long can they go on? This race is more than six standard races in one stretch!

Any bets on the winning time? Let’s see:  +/- 6 minutes for 2,000 metres x 6.35 = 38:06 minutes, but the crews must fade over that distance. Make your bet before reading further.

The winning time was thirty-seven minutes and thirty-five seconds (just so the time in digits didn’t catch your eye). The 2019 race did take its toll. The youngest man in the leading German eight, also the fastest man on the ergometer, collapsed at about 8 km. The Dutch boat moved ahead. The German oarsman recovered enough to keep paddling, but then a man in the Dutch boat collapsed 300 metres before the finish, and the German crew went on to win.

Convert that 37:35 minutes into time for 2,000 metres and, yes, be impressed. Remember that both these crews finished the race with a handicap. Both oarsmen recovered.

The race in 2020 is 30 August and will be on this website.

This German website gives a three-minute video of the race. (Hopefully it will continue to be available for a while.)

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