History of Rowing Sports

The history of rowing, as a sport and not just as a way to get around to places, is almost as old as civilization itself. Once used to be a widely practiced sport many centuries ago, rowing has now declined in popularity due to the rise of other sports such as basketball. Despite that, rowing has still been practiced many parts of the world; in some areas, it is considered a tradition. Here are the other interesting facts about rowing!


  • In the earlier days, ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome considered rowing as a mode of transportation. It formally took shape of sports in between the 17th and 18th century in the form of Oxford-Cambridge university boat race. The earliest recorded evidence of rowing as a sport (and not just a mode of transportation) is depicted on a 15th-century BC funeral carving for Pharaoh Amenhotep II who was also reportedly known for his rowing prowess.
  • Rowing got popular in Europe and was introduced in America in the 19th century.
  • The founder of Modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin was also a rower, which is probably a reason why rowing is known as one of the original sports in modern Olympics Games.
  • The first intercollegiate sports contest in the United States was a rowing competition with the first race between Yale and Harvard. Intercollegiate rowing in England grew further when Oxford and Cambridge competed against each other in June 1829.
  • The USA is the only country to win consecutive gold medals in the men’s eight at every Olympic Games from 1920 till 1956.
  • The first American to win the men’s single sculls in the year 1997 was Jamie Koven.
  • Marking the history, the U.S. men’s ‘eight’ won a gold medal in the year 1999 and 2004. The U.S. women’s eight at the Olympics Games also received a gold medal in the year 2008.
  • Modern rowing started when boatmen who offered ferry and taxi services in London began to compete against each other across the Thames River for money prizes offered by the London Guilds.
  • An “eight” is a rowing boat that is steered by eight rowers and one coxswain or cox. This type of boat is mainly used for competitions. Each of the eight rowers has one oar, and the cox sits on the stern. He is responsible for the steering of the vessel as well as keeping the pace and the rhythm of the rowers.
  • Rowing at the Paralympics was only introduced pretty recently — in 2008 in Beijing, China. Both male and female rowers participated in the event. The sport was split into four boat classes, which were more than 1,000 meters. Unlike the usual rowing at most sporting events, the rowing at the Paralympics has “adaptive rowing,” which means the vessel and the equipment specifically designed to adapt to the athlete, rather than the sport itself adapting to the athlete.
  • Rowing could have been first unveiled in the 1896 Summer Olympics but it was cancelled due to bad weather; four years later rowing was formally introduced. It was not until the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics that women were finally allowed to compete.
  • The “Doggett’s Coat and Badge” has been the oldest-known existing rowing event in the world since 1715. It is the race between the London Bridge and the Chelsea Harbor held on London’s the River Thames.
  • Sir Steve Redgrave from Great Britain is known as the athlete of the century with perhaps the best rowing skills.  He is also a six-time world champion, with gold medals from five Olympic Games.
  • Elisabeta Lipa of Romania was next in line after Sir Steve Redgrave who has also received five gold medals in the Olympic Games from 1984-2004.
  • The famous baby doctor, Dr Benjamin Spock, was once an Olympic Rower and had also won a gold medal in the ‘eight’.
  • The River Lagan is Northern Ireland’s major river which has been used by several rowing clubs in Belfast. These include the Queen University’s Boat Club, the Methodist College Boat Club and the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, among others.
  • For much of rowing’s history, it has been a male-dominated sport. Although women were finally allowed to compete at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, women started to take rowing as early as the 15th century. When an Italian duchess visited Venice in the late 1400s a regatta was mounted in which over 50 peasant women took part. Modern rowing for women started way back in the 19th century.
  • Rowing can also be executed without a coxswain. This image depicts the men’s lightweight coxless fours at the 2012 London Summer Olympics which took place at Dorney Lake. This lake, near the village of Dorney, Buckinghamshire and the River Thames, was built specifically for rowing.
  • Amateur rowing competitions started towards the end of the 1700s with the advent of “boat clubs” at British public schools such as Eaton.
  • University rowing has been popular in England since it began at Oxford also in the late 1700s, but the first recorded university rowing competition took place also at Oxford which pitted the Brasenose College and Jesus College.
  • Rowing has been the favourite of many celebrities such as Teddy Roosevelt (Harvard), Bradley Cooper (Georgetown), Winklevoss Twins (Harvard), Anderson Cooper (Yale), Edward Norton (Yale), Stephen Hawking (Oxford) and Hugh Laurie (Cambridge).

There is a lot more when we dig deeper into the history of rowing sports. Some of it we have shared here and you can find a lot more in the books below:

Where to Buy
The Book of Rowing
Advanced Rowing
A History of Collegiate Rowing in America


1. The Book of Rowing

Written by D.C. Churbuck who is a master rower and sculler, this book is full of history, facts and illustrations on rowing. If you are new to rowing, this book is for you as it is written in a clear language with less of technical jargons that everyone can understand and enjoy. Apart from the historical background, the book is also very informative for those who wish to learn more about the boat designs and types, making it an excellent addition to rower’s library.

2. Advanced Rowing: International perspectives on high-performance rowing

This book is a great guidebook for those who want to ace in rowing sports. Not only does this book feature information on experts and international head coaches from around the world, but this book also helps the reader learn how these coaches have gained success, skills and fitness. It talks about some key topics on rowing such as fitness, technique development, nutrition, biomechanics, strength, conditions and endurance training. Since this book is very well-researched, it is also an excellent resource for budding coaches to learn about the strategies these experts had used while performing at the domestic and international programs.

3. A History of Collegiate Rowing in America

A nostalgic collection of photographs and records on the history of Collegiate Rowing in America, this book is an absolute treasure for rowers. From players to their boats, destinations and races, this book covers all aspects of collegiate rowing in a very engaging manner. It provides detailed coverage on the Ivy League, the West Coast powers, Northeastern racing and many other national and international competitions. The book also has a bonus of poems, fight songs, photographs and sketches on rowing that will keep you hooked till the last page.


It’s time to row your boat gently, skillfully and passionately. We hope the history of boating adds more to your knowledge and love for rowing. Also, these books will help you improve your rowing skills and direct you further on how to pursue rowing as a career.