Anna Goodale’s Guide to Watching Rowing

The gold medalist shares her favorite Olympic moment, and explains the basics of her sport

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Anna Goodale (right) and Zsuzsanna Francia (left) compete in the women's pairs event at the FISA Rowing World Cup in Germany in 2008. Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Introducing the Expert

Name: Anna Goodale
Games and Medals: Beijing 2008 (Gold, Women’s Eight)
Key Quote: “Being strong doesn’t mean you go fast, being technically savvy doesn’t mean you go fast. You need to learn how to use your strength most efficiently to get the most out of your body, the water and your teammates.”
Favorite Olympic Moment: Standing on the podium after we had accepted our medals. “Life doesn’t usually present many situations to be truly great at something.”


Hull/Shell/Scull: The shell or hull refers to the actual boat. A scull actually has two meanings: An oar made to be used in a sculling boat where each rower has two oars, one per hand, and a boat that is propelled using sculling oars. A "single scull," for example, is a one-person boat where the rower has two oars.

Seat: The seat is 1) the actual piece of the boat where a rower sits 2) a rower’s position in the boat (the bow seat is seat one; the second position from the bow is seat two, and so on) and 3) a measure of advantage or disadvantage in a race (“We are ahead by three seats,” means that we are in front of the closest boat by three lengths of a single rower’s section in the shell).

Most people don’t know that the seat is on wheels and moves with each stroke. Rowers’ feet are attached to the boat by a foot stretcher, or pair of shoes that are permanently in the boat. This means that our legs do most of the work.

Rigger: The piece of equipment that attaches the oar to the boat. The small part that holds the oar to the rigger is called the oarlock.


The Start: The start is a series of quick, strong strokes at the beginning of a race to get the boat up to speed. Most crews take a few short strokes right off the block before taking between 20 to 50 higher cadence strokes before transitioning into race pace.

Make a Move or Power 10: A “move” is an intentional, collective series of strokes to gain momentum. It can be accomplished by to upping the stroke rate, focusing on a certain technical aspect or collectively increasing power.

The Sprint: While the whole race is essentially a sprint, the final strokes in each race are what we refer to as “the sprint.” The final 250-to-500 meters in a race can determine who wins or loses.


1. Take a Seat: To gain on an opponent by the margin of a seat

2. Catch a Crab: A rower’s blade gets stuck in the water. When this happens, the oar acts as a break and can slow or stop the boat. A severe crab can even eject a rower out of the shell or capsize a small boat.

3. Feather: To rotate the blade to run parallel to the water surface. This minimizes wind resistance while the rower moves up the slide.

4. Square: To rotate the blade perpendicular to the surface to enter the water with as little splash as possible.

5. Cox: Short for coxswain, the “cox” is the oar-less crewmember who is responsible for steering and race strategy. (Yes, they get medals too!) He or she is connected to the rowers by an amplification system.


Sweeping/Sculling: There are two disciplines in rowing. Sweeping refers to the boat classes where each rower has one oar. Sculling refers to the boat classes where each rower has two oars.

Boat Standards: All boats are required to meet certain standards of length, weight, blade thickness, coxswain seat, flotation, bowball (a rubber ball at the bow tip to protect against collision damage) and quick release foot stretchers. Each of these is routinely checked before or after each race.

Course Regulations: A course must be straight with no less than six lanes providing fair and equal racing conditions for six crews. The length is 2,000 meters, and the standard international course is 108 meters wide and at least three meters deep.

Game Changers

1900: The first Olympic race was held. Rowing was one of the original modern Olympic sports in the 1896 Athens games, but that first year the race was canceled due to weather.

1956: It became standard for races to consist of six boats in a side-by-side formation.

1976: For the first time, women were allowed to compete in rowing (on a 1000-meter course, half the distance of the men’s race) in the Montreal Olympics.

1984: A major rule change lengthened the course for women to the full 2000 meters.

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