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Rowing Science: Speed and Stroke Rate Analysis of 2023 Worlds in Belgrade
February 20, 2024
Valery Kleshnev,

Headwinds made for slow times and sometimes challenging conditions at the start

At the latest 2023 Rowing World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, the weather was very different between the two days of A finals. On Saturday, a gusty head wind made average rowing speed in the eight races only 92.5% of World Best Time (WBT), with the slowest speed being 89.6% in M2- and the fastest M4x at 94.2%. On Sunday, much calmer weather allowed faster speeds in the six races with an average of 97.9% of WBT, with the fastest being W1x at 98.5% and the slowest M2x at 97.4%.

The weather made this Worlds the sixth slowest out of the last 30 World Championship regattas. The average speed in 13 persistent events was 4.2% slower than at the fastest Worlds in 2014, and 1.6% slower than average over the last 30 years.

The linear trend line grows by 0.042%/year (after the previous Worlds in 2022, it was 0.059%, RBN 2022/09), but the non-linear trend remains negative during the last two decades.

Similar to last year, the highest growth 0.12-0.16%/year was found in both eights. Then, seven events had quite similar growth about 0.04%/year. The lowest growth was in W1x, M4-, W4x with less than 0.02%/year, and M2- was the only boat currently with a negative trend of -0.027%/year. This corresponds with the slowest results of M2- winners and could be an evidence of lack of leaders in men’s pairs.

Last year (RBN 2022/09), this bottom position was occupied by W1x, but this year, Karolien Florijn, NED has shown an outstanding time of 7:14.35 = 98.5% of WBT, the best result in all boats, and moved the trend in W1x three positions higher.

The average stroke rate in the 14 Olympic boat types was 38.9 spm, which is very similar to recent Worlds between 2018 and 2022: after a significant step up in 2017 from 36-37 spm up to 38-39 spm, the average stroke rate consistently remains at this high level.

The differences in stroke rate between place-takers in A finals was insignificant across all events, but in event groups, very different yearly trends were found: in all men’s sculling events, stroke rate has seen continuous growth during the last two years, while in men’s sweep events it has declined.

This year, winners in M2-, M4- and M8+ raced at about 38.5 spm on average, but in M1x, M2x and M4x this average was 40.9 spm, peaking in the M2x at 42.1 spm. Average stroke rate across all finalists was also slightly higher in men’s sculling (39.6 spm) than in men’s sweep boats (39.4 spm).

The race strategy continues its trend of a more even distribution of speed over the race, with winners having the most even speed, with the fastest speed in the middle (1). In this year’s winners, the time to complete each 500m section compared to a race average was: +1.44%, -0.68%, -1.06%, +0.42% with an SD of 1.13% (last year, the SD was 1.78%).

Another familiar finding was that the distribution of stroke rate was very similar in all finalists (except 6th place takers, 1), so the winners got their advantage by means of significantly higher Effective Work per Stroke. The speed of the winners was significantly higher during the first ¾ of the race (2), but EWpS was higher all the way during the race (3) because at the last 500m, the winners had slightly lower stroke rate at similar speed with other medalists.

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03/14/2024  8:57:52 AM
Thank you for posting this interesting paper. The data are interesting and confirm previous work conducted at the West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo NY coordinated by Coach David Paschke. Actually, the relationship between stroke rate and velocity was first studied in swimming (Craig AB Jr. Relationship of stroke rate, distance per stroke, and velocity in competitive swimming. Medicine Science Sports exercise 11:278-283. 1979 and Termin B. Training using the stroke frequency-velocity relationship to combine biomechanical and metabolic paradigms. Journal of Swimming Research 2001), kayaking (Pendergast DR. Energetics of kayaking. European Journal of Applied Physiology 59:342-350, 14:9-17. 1989) and finally in rowing (D. Pendergast et al. Energy Balance of Human Locomotion in Water. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 90:377-386 2003). In rowing, the relationship between stroke frequency and velocity is shown in Figure 6 of the latter paper for many sports. These data show that in rowing the velocity goes up linearly with stroke rate over the entire range of rates up to 50 strokes per minute and velocity of 5.5 m/sec. At low speeds the distance per stroke is great, while at higher speeds it is decreased as the stroke frequency is high, as the time for contact is decreased. This paper also includes the metabolic cost of rowing and the stroke rate has to be met my metabolic supply via first aerobic and then anaerobic metabolism. The rate that you show are below what can be achieved and thus maximal speeds may be higher. Of course the rate is determined by the technique of the oarsmen, which is highly variable, as well as their metabolic powers. These factors are why in a sound training regime these factors should be incorporated increasing distance per stroke at low speed followed by high stroke frequencies.

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