Rowing and the weather


The weather will have a big impact on Olympic rowing. Susan Graham former womens captain at Wolfson College Oxford and John McManigle, mens captain, look at how weather affects training and race day performance.

The weather will have a big impact on Olympic rowing. Susan Graham former womens captain at Wolfson College Oxford and John McManigle, mens captain, look at how weather affects training and race day performance.

Rowing is one of the oldest sports in the world, with competitions dating to ancient Egypt. Today, modern racing boats and blades press the limits of athletic efficiency. But whether you're watching an Olympic side-by-side race, a head race (time trial) like the Head of the River Regatta; or even the bumps racing popular at Oxford and Cambridge, the fundamental character of the sport is unchanged over thousands of years: oarsmen compete to use the water and wind around them to maximal advantage.

Adapt race tactics to the conditions of the day

"In racing as well as training, the weather is more than just a physical phenomenon, it affects rowers' confidence", says Susan Graham, former women's captain at Wolfson College, Oxford. Coxes quickly learn to encourage their rowers to "sit up tall in the wind" and adapt their race tactics to the conditions on the day. Adapting to oxbump vaughan dutton Source: Vaughan Dutton a change in wind or powering through a heavy burst of rain can make all the difference in a race.

Slice through the wind

Where races are decided by inches per stroke, crews will take every opportunity to use the conditions to their advantage. "In a brisk tailwind, a good crew will keep its blades square to the wind," says John McManigle, men's captain at Wolfson College, Oxford. "Those square blades act like sails, adding boat speed effortlessly." Similarly, crews will minimise the effect of a headwind by slicing through the wind with feathered blades.

Whoever copes best, wins

Coach and former Oxford Blue's rower Zoe Lundy doesn't let the weather worry her. "My first two boat races had horrendous head winds. As a light-weight crew, you're like a crisp packet in the wind. You have to absorb some of the motion underneath you." Does she think the weather can decide the boat race? "It's not the weather that decides the boat race, it's whoever copes with it the best who wins."

Tracking water level and speed

For crews that train on rivers, the previous week's weather can mean as much as conditions on the day. Heavy rain in a river's catchment area over days leads to increased stream, choppy water, even floods. Many clubs have a scheme for tracking water level and speed to determine when it is safe to train on the water. In addition, coxes and captains consider wind, temperature and rainfall when deciding which crews can go out, what safety precautions need to be taken and of course what to wear! Although we often think of rowing as a sport on calm, flat water, in fact stream and chop can prevent boats from going out at all.

oxbump app The OxBump app Safety in rowing is a key concern

In Oxford and Cambridge there is a 'flag status' to indicate which crews can boat based on the river conditions. Susan Graham and John McManigle, University of Oxford students and keen college rowers, have developed the rowing iPhone apps " OxBump" and " CamBump" to equip rowers and coaches with the information they need about river conditions and the weather to plan their outings. OxBump and CamBump use Met Office observations and forecasts taken from Datapoint shown in a quick and accessible format combined with other helpful information rowers need to access before going out on the river.

Met Office forecasters are on site at Eton Dorney for the Olympic rowing, advising the organisers so that they can plan for the expected weather. Detailed forecasts for Olympic rowing events can be found on our events pages.

Last updated: 1 August 2012

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