29 November 2021
By Göran R Buckhorn
At the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the rowing events will once again be held at the Maritime Stadium in Long Beach. But now only on a 1,500-metre course and on tidal waters. Göran R Buckhorn is unhappy.
On 11 November, World Rowing announced that the organisation had accepted the proposal of LA28 to hold the rowing events at Long Beach Marine Stadium for the Olympic rowing in 2028.
Jean-Christophe Rolland, president of World Rowing (former FISA), took to social media to share the information with the rowing community about the decision. He wrote:
We have been working very hard with LA28 on the feasibility of an alternative to Lake Perris, which would be Long Beach and the Marine Stadium. As you know the maximum possible length (at this venue) for racing is 1500m, and the connection to the ocean generates a tide. We have carried out studies to address the challenges, the WR [World Rowing] Council has finalized its analysis and has concluded to accept the proposal from the LA28 organizing committee. They will now continue to work with the city of Long Beach and the relevant stakeholders on formal application and approval.
At the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1932, Long Beach offered a 2,000-metre course for the rowers, but since then different constructions have been made, including a bridge, which has shorted the available course at the Marine Stadium to 1,500 metres.
The initial bid for the 2028 Olympic rowing venue was the artificial Perris Lake, built in 1973, instead of Lake Casitas, which was the rowing venue at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. It was said that Lake Perris was closer to the Olympic athletes’ accommodations. But to put rowing and other watersports at Perris would require a satellite village. However, it seems the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would not like to spend the money on the rowers and the other “water athletes” – so no extra village for you!
I have not found any rules saying that an international regatta course – not even an Olympic course – has to be 2,000 metres. And World Rowing, as the governing body of the sport of rowing, can do whatever they please, which they proved on 11 November.
The reaction to World Rowing’s decision came swiftly on social media and was not merciful. In the comments on World Rowing’s Instagram account rowing social medialists used both barrels: “1st of April is late this year”, “No. Thank. You.”, “Absolutely RIDICULOUS.”, “… a terrible decision”, “World Rowing are a disgrace. Shameless.”, “Galactic stupidity”, “Pathetic”, and the list of negative comments goes on and on…
There were also concerns raised how rowers should be able to train for the Olympic rowing in 2028. Daniel Spring (aka “fatsculler”) wrote in one comment: “A very backward step in my opinion. Training and preparing to race 1500m is very different to that required to race 2K. Will World Rowing be adjusting the race distances for the World Cups and World Championships of the LA Olympiad as well? […]”
The answer to Spring’s question is: No, the distance for the World Cup regattas and the World Championships stays 2,000 metres. The rowers going to the Olympics better be able to switch gears when they get to Long Beach.
One should ask whose interest World Rowing is looking after? It should be the rowers, but not in this case, methinks. This bad decision cannot be in line what the rowers want. How are Olympic winning times going to be compared through the ages with 500 metres lacking in 2028? What does the World Rowing Fairness Committee think of Olympic races on tidal waters? Is World Rowing running the IOC’s errands? First, World Rowing kicked out the lightweights from the Olympics because the IOC thought rowing had too many athletes at the Games, and now, they bend over because the IOC obviously does not want to spend the money on an extra village. I think that both rowers and national rowing federations are losing faith in their governing body.
As the rules and regulations for Olympic rowing are now out the window, allow me to suggest some modest proposals* for the 2028 Olympic rowing on the 1,500-metre course:
- Go down from 6 lanes to 3 lanes and run the races as slalom races. This will give the crews some extra metres to race.
- Make the rowing sprint relay races, for example 3×500 metres. Start with a female single sculler for the first 500 meteres; at the 500-metre mark, a male single sculler takes over to race the second 500 metres. At the 1,000-metre mark, a mixed double scull will race the last 500 metres to the finish line.
- Make the course 1,000 metres. When the rower/s come to the 1,000-metre mark, then they have to turn at a stake and row back where they came from. This way the whole length of the race can be either 2k, 3k, 4k or longer. This use to be the model for the old professionals, who had to turn at a stake in a longer race like 6k. The winner could win up to $6,000 in prize money back in the 1880s, so why not give the Olympic champion a couple of thousands in prize money, too (I am sure one of the big Olympic sponsors are willing to open their wallet for the extra PR). It seems to work well at the Philadelphia Challenge Cup (or the Gold Cup for short) on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. And, while we are at it, why not open a betting office by the grandstand at the Marine Stadium to give the spectators a chance to win some extra bucks?
- Style rowing (not to be confused with rowing style) for quadruple sculls – the boats start on a 500-metre course, each crew given certain points. Umpires will follow in launches and deduct points from the crews depending on how beautifully and gracefully the members of the crew move and how their sculls move in the water – or not. The umpires would especially look at the crews’ technique, esthetic elegance, choreography, togetherness, etc. This is a challenge on tidal waters. The crew with the best watermanship and graceful style over the 500 metres wins. (You might laugh at this, but this was once a discipline for women crews in Europe – see here).
- Or, why not just skip flat water rowing at the 2028 Olympic rowing and let the coastal rowers take over the waters at the Marine Stadium in Long Beach?
*With sincere apologies to Jonathan Swift.