(Continuing with my last two posts, below)
So, what conclusions might we walk out on a limb and draw from this data?
- Women's lightweight rowing is strong (stronger than I might have thought) and may actually be growing. The boats that win Sprints and IRAs are at the top of a very big heap, a much bigger heap than most of the rowing world believes.
- If more regattas offered lightweight events, it seems as though there would be more consistent lightweight crews. If this is true, it wouldn't happen at once, because teams would have to believe that the events will be there on a regular basis before they would be willing to actually commit to them.
- These numbers, and experience with Dad Vail and ECAC level crews, suggests that the number of lightweight rowers is large, even though the big scholarship programs don't have lightweights at all.
- Low lightweight entries at a regatta like the Eastern Sprints reflects few Eastern Sprints schools with lightweights, not few schools throughout the country.
- The relatively large gap in speed from the top lightweight eights to the next group is a result of focus, not lack of rowers. Those schools that are beginning to focus on lightweights are moving into the top ranks. For examples look at Georgetown and Stanford. Now that URI and UCF are beginning to focus there, we'll see how they progress.
Friday, December 30, 2005
(Continuing with my last two posts, below)
Thursday, December 29, 2005
(Continuing with my last post, below)
Of the 71 schools racing lightweight boats in 2005, 20 did not race lightweights in 2004. Conversely, 23 schools did not race lightweights in 2005, but did in 2004. Among those racing eights, 15 schools dropped off after 2004 and 9 started in 2005, while among fours 18 dropped after 2004 and 23 picked up in 2005. I also wondered about the movement between eights and fours. Of the 9 additional schools racing eights in 2005, 6 raced fours in 2004. Among fours, of the 23 adds in 2005, 17 raced eights in 2004.
Assuming that these two years are typical years (which I cannot support statistically), there seems to be about 50 schools that consistently race lightweights, with another 40 (roughly 20 drops and 20 adds from ’04 to ’05) moving in and out over the years. This totals up to 90, which is similar to the 85 to 90 I got from adding the CRCA schools to either the 2004 or 2005 totals. By the way, the CRCA list totaled 53 schools which is, of course, darn close to the 50 consistent lightweight schools I’ve just calculated. So, although I really can’t say that this result is statistically sound, it sure feels pretty good. My conclusion, then, is that there are about 85 to 90 schools racing women’s lightweight boats at least every few years.
A few interesting points about these drops and adds. Purdue, winner of the lightweight eight at the 2004 Dad Vail, didn’t even race an eight in 2005. They did race a heavyweight eight, finishing fourth. Meanwhile Dayton, winner of the Dad Vail lightweight eight in 2005, didn’t race an eight in 2004 (although it did race the eight elsewhere in ’04). Dayton did not race any women’s boats at the ’04 Dad Vail. Perhaps Dayton saw the light in ’05 and concentrated on lightweights, believing (correctly) that they had a better chance there. The Purdue coach, though, needs to answer the truthteller question, “Which were you happier with – the lightweight gold medal in 2004 or a heavyweight fourth place in 2005?” I wonder how many lightweights were in that Purdue boat?
Next post, some conclusions.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
With so many new collegiate rowing programs, varsity and club, springing up around the country, it’s hard to keep track of how many schools actually have teams. Given the ephemeral nature of some women’s lightweight crews, this is especially true for that part of the rowing universe. Superficially at least, a count seems to be important as a way of establishing a baseline for the popularity of women’s lightweights as well as providing some context for how the category fits into US collegiate rowing. With crews racing as heavyweights one week and lightweights the next, counting is nearly impossible, but certainly worth a try.
I have to admit up front that although it took some work to gather the small set of statistics I used, that set is severely limited and my results should be seen only as anecdotal evidence. For my count I looked at all race results listed on row2k for 2004 and 2005. Alarm bells go off immediately because two years cannot show a trend (but counting more years = even more time consuming) and more races take place than those covered by row2k. In addition, row2k results are limited by the descriptions coaches supply and I suspect (although I can’t be sure) that some lightweight boats raced as heavyweights but didn’t note their lightweight status. In addition, some races were combination races of lightweights and other boats, and I didn’t count those unless the lightweight boats were designated. The race and school totals I have should therefore be considered to be minimum numbers. With those caveats, on to the statistics.
In 2004, a total of 74 schools raced lightweight fours or eights. Thirty-four schools raced eights and 58 raced fours (some raced both, of course). These schools raced lightweight boats 274 times (not counting “B” boats) – 143 eights and 131 fours. In 2005, 71 schools raced lightweight boats, with 28 racing eights and 63 racing fours. These schools raced 302 boats – 143 eights and 159 fours. In addition, a reader was kind enough to send me the list of schools claiming to have lightweight teams from the latest CRCA meeting. Comparing that list to my own, I note that there are an additional 14 schools which could bring the total up to 85 or so.
Does that number surprise you? It surprises me. The NCAA web site lists 144 DI, DII, and DIII schools that sponsor women’s rowing. I think 85 compares pretty favorably to that, particularly given that a lack of NCAA sponsorship for lightweights when heavyweights are sponsored amounts to a tacit campaign to kill lightweight rowing. (Keep in mind that the 85 is not a subset of the 144 because some of the 85 are club teams not recognized by the NCAA.) Contrary to conventional wisdom, not only is lightweight rowing not dying, it appears to be growing. A jump from 274 boats raced in 2004 to 302 in 2005 is a pretty big move. The sponsoring schools stayed roughly the same so there must have been some increase in racing opportunities for lightweight crews. At the very least, there was an increase in depth of field.
As you would expect, more schools raced fours than eights. Even though the number of eights raced is pretty close to the number of fours (even more in 2004), that resulted from fewer schools racing their eights more often. The greater number of fours could suggest that schools have fewer lightweights than heavyweights (assuming nearly all also race heavy eights), but it could also mean that coaches are using their best lightweights in their heavyweight boats. For all we know schools are racing heavyweight boats that are really mostly lightweights with a few heavyweights added in. In this case the prominence of heavyweight rowing blinds coaches to the opportunity they have to make a name for their program racing lightweights. It’s all speculation though, because the numbers alone tell us nothing about what is really happening.
In my next post I’ll look at how many schools dropped between 2004 and 2005 and how many added on.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Well, not exactly, but in a roundup of recent sports honors from around the world, a FISA report noted that lightweights (including men) won 7 of the 13 awards covered. Melanie Kok, a rower at the University of Virginia, was a member of Canada's world champion lightweight quad which won the Rowing Canada Aviron International Achievement Award. This is particularly interesting because UVa is usually seen as a "meat" program. Maybe that reputation is undeserved or maybe Melanie is the outstanding exception that proves the rule. Either way, it makes one wonder where the US lightweight national team members come from - the major collegiate lightweight programs, occasional lightweight programs, or smaller heavyweight programs. A quick look at last year's 7 national team members reveals their college teams to be Simmons, St. Joe's, Vermont, Cal, UCSD, George Mason, and Emory. As best I can tell, there are only two or three that frequently row lightweight (St. Joe's, UCSD, and Emory), and none with a dedicated lightweight program. The Cal rower, Julie Nichols, rowed as a heavyweight. I would have expected to see some representation from Wisconsin, Radcliffe, Princeton, Stanford, or Georgetown. The national heavyweight powers usually seem to be well represented on the national team, why not the lightweights? Of course, there are so few lightweight slots that any one year could give a distorted view.
This also suggests that there are a lot of good lightweights in smaller programs rowing as heavyweights. Perhaps if coaches weren't so fixated on heavyweights they would realize that they could boat nationally competitive lightweight boats instead of regionally competitive heavyweight boats. Maybe the problem is no lightweight events. As I go through results for the past couple of years to see how many schools row lightweight, it seems clear that many row heavyweight as a matter of course, but always enter a lightweight boat when there is a lightweight event. Regatta organizers would no doubt say that they would offer lightweight events if there was demand. It's hard to train and race a lightweight boat, though, when you never know if there will be an event for it.
Speaking of the national team, by now you've seen the USRowing yearbook. It was disappointing that of 9 color pictures of the US senior national team, the silver medal winning lightweight 2x was in none. Their only picture was as a watermark on the background of a page of text. What's a girl gotta do...? (There are some good shots of Wisco, though.)
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Miami announced the signing of five recruits for the class of 2010, three of whom raced as lightweights in high school. Of the other two, one is a coxswain. It's more likely that Miami plans to beef the girls up rather than start a lightweight program, but I think it's unusual to see a heavyweight program with three lightweights out of four early recruits.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Tulsa announced that it signed four recruits for the class of 2010,three of whom are lightweights from Saratoga. The Saratoga Rowing Association has had a lot of success lately in lightweight junior rowing and these recruits sound like they have some impressive results on their resumes. Coach Kevin Harris said, "Lightweights are going to become more important as we move forward and we are glad to have them."
The Wisconsin State Journal published an article today titled, "Some love for UW's other coaching gems." Yup, one of those gems is Mary Shofner, the Wisco lightweight coach. The columnist, though, makes her split the credit for two national championships with heavyweight coach Bebe Bryans. Yes, Bryans is the head women's coach, but c'mon, this was Shofner's crew. Not to mention, Bryans was still at Michigan State for the 2004 title. Nonetheless, it's good to see Shofner and the Wisconsin lightweights getting some credit.
Erg season (known as "winter" to the common folk) can be a slow time for rowing news. Heck, even Rowing News slows down its publication frequency. I'm going to try to stick to a schedule of posting at least once each week, probably over the weekend. It'll pick up, of course, when we get into the racing season.
Some topics I hope to cover over the winter:
- When is Four Greater Than Eight? Just how many lightweight programs are there?
- A discussion of the commonly given reasons for not having a lightweight program. (I already started this.)
- All Lightweights are Anorexic, Right? Yes, I'll discuss the eating disorder stereotype. It's a discussion that is usually uncomfortable and uninformed and I'll try to avoid both.
- Preseason ranking. V8s for sure, V4s if I decide I really don't mind making a fool of myself.
Finally, thanks for your comments, they are interesting, informed, and help give me post topics. Speaking of which, if there's anything you would like to see covered, let me know.
Monday, December 12, 2005
It only seems natural to wonder if Wisconsin might not become dominant in lightweight rowing, simply because with a larger student body than most of the competition they have so many more potential athletes to recruit from. Looking at last year's final top 10 rankings, there are two schools with larger student bodies - UCSB and Ohio State - but those programs are not varsity (I'm only concerned with undergraduate populations). Interestingly, last year's second place boat, Princeton, had the second smallest undergraduate population at 4,678, just 100 more than Lehigh. Wisconsin has 29,078 undergraduates. I also suspected that Wisconsin might offer some scholarship money for lightweights, but a reader told me that is no longer true. If Princeton, Radcliffe, and Stanford are able to offer some admissions preference to rowers, that certainly helps them compete for recruits with Wisco. Studies have shown that rowers are likely to be the smartest group of athletes on campus so that means that many are potential candidates for admission into those selective schools (and of course, lightweights are smartest among rowers!), but there are many more who are not. How then, can schools like Princeton and Radcliffe continue to compete with fewer high school recruits to choose from (due to admissions requirements) and fewer walk-ons to recruit (due to smaller student populations)? Radcliffe's situation is somewhat tempered by the fact that they have a large student body (9,519), but they certainly have difficult admissions requirements. Princeton has a very difficult situation with tough admissions and a small student body. Even worse is a school like Lehigh with very few, if any, recruits, selective admissions, and a small student body. On the other hand, some of the state schools should have a lot of potential if they can just improve recruiting. Ohio State has over 35,000 undergraduates from which to recruit. Of the 2005 top ten schools, however, only four have student populations over 10,000, a reflection of the dearth of scholarships and varsity programs in many of those schools.
This situation should even be worse for the heavyweights. With all of the scholarship money sloshing around those programs, Ivy schools, which are unable to offer scholarships, and small schools should have problems competing. Of last year's top ten heavyweight boats, 6 have student populations over 10,000 with a seventh, Radcliffe, at close to 10,000. Because of the lack of scholarship money in lightweight programs, the smaller schools are probably better able to compete and admissions preferences for varsity programs are a big recruiting advantage. It's hard to think of another sport (hockey maybe?) in which small schools can win national championships. It's hard to imagine that small schools can remain competitive in heavyweight rowing for too much longer, although only time will tell. Although every lightweight rower would like to be on scholarship, it's the lack of scholarships that make lightweight rowing as competitive as it is. There's a pretty wide disparity between the first tier and the second tier of V8s, but that seems to be narrowing as some occasional lightweight schools are adding permanent lightweight programs. The NCAA's presence in heavyweight rowing has had quite an effect on that sport, bringing big scholarship money, tiers of competition (DI, DII, DIII), and removal of the heavyweight women's championship from the wider rowing community. I've heard heavyweight coaches say this is all a good thing, but I have my doubts. I think that lightweight rowing is the place where small schools will continue to be nationally competitive, and smart coaches will increase their focus on lightweights for that very reason.
This discussion raises another question, - just how many women's lightweight programs are there? Over the next week or so I'll be doing some research into that question and will post my results to see if they square with what you think.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
My 2005 fall rankings based on fall results:
5 SUNY Buffalo
10 NC State
Just like the V8 ranking, this is a fall ranking, not a spring pre-season ranking, so there is no speculation about who will do well in the spring. Also, when I mention race finishes below, I refer to finishing place among college crews only.
This ranking is controversial right from the start because although Princeton beat Radcliffe at the HOCR, Radcliffe beat Princeton pretty handily at the Chase. Nonetheless, I'll stick to my principle of the HOCR being the fall championship race so Princeton gets Number 1. In the V8 Radcliffe did well at the Chuck but did poorly at the Chase - maybe they were switching people between boats. Next is Georgetown which comes in at number 3 although they did not race in Boston. They move ahead of third place Boston finisher Cal because they were closer to Princeton at the Chase than Cal was at the HOCR. Cal comes in at 4 by virtue of its excellent performance at the Charles.
The rest of the field sorted itself out between the Head of the Ohio and the Head of the Elk where they all raced each other or raced someone who beat someone else who... SUNY Buffalo won the Head of the Ohio which propelled them into 5th, followed by Pitt who was second in Pittsburgh. Number 7 CMU might think they should be higher by virtue of their 3rd place finish at the HOCR, but they were 3rd at the Head of the Ohio. Number 8 Villanova was 4th at both the Head of the Ohio and the HOCR. Number 9 Duquesne makes the field by beating NC State, which comes in at 10, at the Occoquan Challenge.
The big question is what happened to NC State, which won the Head of the South and the Hooch? Once they lost the Occoquan Challenge to Duquesne, which was 6th at the Head of the Ohio, they were out of the running for a higher ranking. It's not clear this is fair, but in the absence of any other evidence, that's the way it is. NC State's result at Occoquan also devalued everyone who raced at the Hooch. Other than NC State, the only boat to race any other ranked boats was Miami (Ohio) which was last (among colleges) at both the Hooch and the Ohio. Given the relatively large field at the Hooch, it's hard to believe it wasn't a more consequential race, but the results speak for themselves. Of course, if NC State had beaten Duquesne at the Occoquan, this would've been much tougher.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
An argument I've heard several heavyweight coaches make is that it's not realistic to expect college age women to still meet the same 130 pound weight limit that high school girls meet. The difference between a high school freshman and a college senior is huge in all aspects - physical, mental, and social - and the weight limit needs to be higher in college. Underlying this argument, I think, is the notion that college women have to lose too much weight to get down to 130. I have two points in response to this, one more obvious than the other.
My first point is that I'm not sure the high school weight limit is relevant. The claim is that 130 is too low for college women, but maybe it's too high for high school girls. There may be an argument to be made that high school and college weight limits should be different, but that is independent of any argument about what the college weight limit should be. I've addressed that topic in a previous post. There I took a look at national height and weight figures which lead one to the conclusion that the average 19 year old woman is a 130 pound lightweight. I don't know how the 130 pound limit was originally arrived at, but I've not heard an argument why it should be different for college, only why it shouldn't be the same as high school. One argument would be that the average athletic woman will weigh more (muscle weighs more than fat) but, again, I haven't heard that.
Now for the obvious point. Raising the weight limit will not result in fewer women who need to lose weight to row lightweight, it will result in the same amount of heavier women who need to lose weight to row lightweight. Raising the limit simply shifts the "possible lightweight" weight range up by the same amount the limit was raised. Any issues with weight loss still have the same solution - responsible programs with responsible coaches who only race natural lightweights.
There may be an argument for raising the college weight limit, but if so, it has nothing to do with what the high school limit is. Actually, 130 seems about right to me. Lightweights now get pretty close to heavyweight boats and a boatload of 140 or 145 pounders would be right on them. The weight limit needs to be low enough to provide an obvious strength difference from heavyweights, but high enough to include a large proportion of the population. One-thirty seems to do a pretty good job on both counts.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Of the nine lightweight women who race in a world championship, all but 2 (LW2-, has that been raced since 2003?) scull. The two lightweight women who race at the Olympics (LW2x) scull. Should lightweight women be sculling in college?
Not every college rower has the desire to make the national team, and even fewer have the ability, but for those who do, their future lies in sculling. College students row for the glory of the sport and for the glory of their school, not because they are in a feeder system for the national team. In reality, however, they are. There are no LeBron Jameses in rowing and the national team relies on colleges to do their part in nurturing high potential rowers. Many of our best rowers don't even think about the national team until after they've graduated and their whole competitive experience until that point is college rowing, meaning sweep rowing. Because the United States gets thrashed year in and year out (my apologies to last summer's world silver medal winners in the lightweight 2x) in sculling, there has been much handwringing over the emphasis on sweep rowing in our scholastic and collegiate rowing programs. Given USRowing's new emphasis on small boats that hand wringing has become wails of lamentation. Of course, not much is being done about it because this country is in love with big boats. And why not? They're big, fast, and get a lot of people rowing. They're fun to watch. Nonetheless, in the Olympics they only count for one medal. In the past we've been happy winning one rowing medal as long as that medal is in the eight. No longer.
If you want to be an Olympian as a lightweight woman, you want to be a sculler. Chances are though, that you won't learn to scull until you are 21 or 22. The old saying is true - it's easier to teach a sculler to sweep than to teach a sweeper to scull - and our competition has been sculling for years longer than we have. Why not then, try to close the gap a bit and have lightweight collegiate sculling events? Sculling is better for the body, teaches better boat feel and boat handling skills, teaches sweep rowers to row on both sides, and quads go nearly as fast as eights. Just think how much more fun it would be if these big fields of fours at Dad Vails were big fields of quads! The A10 has made some efforts to bring sculling to its member schools and I believe a quad event is part of its conference championships. Maybe more conferences should do this, particularly for lightweight women. After all, sculling requires more skill so it should be perfect for lightweights!
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Columbia's Elizabeth Peters won the 19-23 lightweight women's race at the Euro Open European Championships in Copenhagen. Libby is a member of the US Indoor Rowing Team and won with a 7:22.8. The interesting thing about this is that Columbia doesn't have a lightweight women's team. No doubt she's beaten out a lot of heavyweights to make Columbia's V8. The women's open lightweight winning time? 7:07.3.
A FITD reader wrote about her dislike of erg season because on the water her lightweight four is equal to or faster than her crew's heavy four, but on the erg they regularly get beat by the same women. As depressing as this may be, the first thing to remember is that for rowers, the erg exists for one reason - to help you go faster on the water. Crossing a finish line first, in a boat, is all that matters. Nonetheless, a cult has built up around the erg because in the ultimate team sport it provides a chance for individual glory. It provides a way to objectively measure and rank rowers and gives coaches a starting point for setting boats. For the less competent coaches it provides the only measure they need to set boats. Twenty-five years ago erg scores were taken with a grain of salt because, as everyone knew, ergs didn't float. They cost thousands of dollars and crews with tight budgets didn't feel a real need to spend money on one. As they became a critical part of national team testing procedures, however, it became obvious to all that they were useful tools and that no serious crew could be without them. (It also helped that Concept II came out with a much less expensive version.) At a time when Mike Teti has been quoted as saying (I'm paraphrasing), "Just give me a big erg, I'll teach him to row," it's understandable that a rower's world seems to revolve around the erg.
The erg, though, has actually helped make some crews go slower. How? The erg has produced "meat" coaches. Meat coaches are women's heavyweight coaches who recruit based almost solely on size, because size generally equals bigger erg scores. (Interestingly, meat coaches seem to be more likely at schools with major football programs.) These coaches are unable to get beyond a girl's erg score and therefore don't so much coach, as simply test. They are like athletic proctors, giving tests, ranking rowers, and setting boats. When recruiting, they only ask two questions - what is your erg score and how big are you? This is the recruiting scavenger hunt - they believe that if they can find the biggest girls, they'll have the fastest boats. What they fail to do (or can't do), is coach. As a result they get beaten by crews who have been coached and actually know how to row. These are the people who give women's rowing a bad name because they simply eyeball girls and offer them scholarships. No wonder other athletes, who have been working at their sport since they were twelve without earning a scholarship, believe women's heavyweight rowing is a joke.
Lightweight coaches, however, don't have the luxury of trying to "out big" the opposition. Everyone weighs the same so they actually have to teach women how to row and row well. If you want to find a good undiscovered coach look for a good lightweight coach. Ergs are just as valuable for training and measurement for lightweights as for heavyweights, but lightweight coaches know that they can't rely on erg scores alone to set boats. They know that there is more to it - technique, obviously, but also heart, guts, and determination. A will to win. There are days when a heavyweight lines up at the starting line, looks over at her opponents, and based on size alone knows that she should have an easy race of it. That never happens to a lightweight. She can never count on winning a race through size. This means that champion lightweights have to be more scrappy, more gutsy, and have more heart. Champion heavyweights are champions because they race like lightweights.
But back to the erg. Yes, heavyweights should be able to pull a better score than lightweights. (This, by the way, is why the Midget Basketball League argument against lightweight rowing is flawed. As erg scores show, rowing is a strength sport, which always have weight classes.) So then, how could a heavyweight lose on the water to a lightweight? Technique is an obvious answer, followed by all of the intangibles discussed above. But there is another way to use erg scores - weight adjust them.
Weight adjusted erg scores started out as a way for lightweights to feel good about themselves. They were supposed to measure some notion of efficiency, but who really cared about efficiency if you still lost the boat race? No matter what your weight you have to pull along your own body weight plus the weight of the boat and the weight of the coxswain. If you don't take this extra weight into account you're kidding yourself with a weight adjustment. Concept II, however, has a weight adjustment calculator that does take these things into account. It also accounts for the additional drag a heavyweight boat has because it sits lower in the water. The next time you take an erg test run your score and the heavyweight scores through this calculator to see how you really did. Both scores have to be adjusted because the calculator tells you the time for an eight made up of rowers with your score. You may find you're still behind on the erg (remember those intangibles), but you'll have a better picture of who can really move a boat.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
A reader posted a comment to a post on dedicated lightweight programs suggesting that the real race at Dad Vails is lightweight fours because that event has more competitors than lightweight eights. This comment was followed by another taking issue with that statement, saying that the light eight winner was closer in speed to the open 8 winner than was the light 4 winner to the open 4 winner.
Both are correct in their facts. There were 18 light four entries vs. just 5 in the light 8, but the light 4 was 3.3% slower than the heavy 4 while the light 8 was only 2.5% slower than the heavy 8. To try to understand what this means, we need to look for some context. We can get that by looking at other races. At Eastern Sprints the light 8 was 5.1% slower and the light 4 was 2.3% slower - the opposite of Vails! IRAs don't work because the heavies row in a different regatta and no fours are raced at IRAs. (Rowing in a different regatta means that times are not at all comparable, but what the heck, I'll do it anyway. The light 8 turns out to be 5.0% slower - a result I attribute to pure coincidence.) I've used 2005 results here, as opposed to going back and doing some sort of averaging over the years.
We've just succeeded in muddying the waters so now let's look at world records. I know they were all set at different times and on different courses, but as world records we can use them as measures because to set a world record the boats will have met up with generally the same conditions. No light eights or light fours race internationally so we'll use doubles and quads as proxies. Here we find that light quads are 5.1% slower and light doubles are 2.8% slower, the same pattern as Sprints. The men, by the way, also follow that pattern at Vails and in the world records (no fours at Sprints).
So, this suggests that the fact that at Vails the light eights are closer to the heavies than the light fours are is an aberration. I'm not sure why this is but I'll guess that it's because the heavyweights in Dad Vail programs are closer in size to lightweights than in the scholarship and national team programs. I think this supports the point I made earlier that if Dad Vail programs would concentrate on lightweights they can be much more successful on a national (as opposed to the Dad Vail) level. Think about the Truthtellers.
Back to the original question about which event is more competitive at Vails - I don't know. I think we can safely say that despite only having 5 entrants, the light 8 is as competitive as any other event. We don't know, however, if they're closer to the heavies because the heavies are slower or the lights are faster. As for the fours, they do seem to be a bit slower than they should be, but still close enough to be in the ballpark.
The other thing that comes out of this is the fact that the men are generally closer to their heavyweight counterparts than the women (except for the light eight at Vails). This probably is due to longer standing and better developed lightweight programs for the men. The good news for the light women is that they can look forward to improving their speed at a faster rate than the heavies.