Sunday, December 31, 2006

Weigh-in Presentation at the USRowing Convention

At the USRowing Convention in Portland a few weeks ago, Dr. Tim Hosea of the USRowing Medical Commission made a presentation on lightweights, weigh-ins, and weight loss. A year ago the Commission began working on a set of procedures for safe weight loss. The presentation took the form of a discussion, more than a specific recommendation, although guidelines were set out. Dr. Hosea was kind enough to send me the presentation (above) although without the benefit of hearing Dr. Hosea's presentation, some of the slides are a bit cryptic. With that caveat, here are a few highlights:

  • The Commission sees a need for some "fairly specific" guidelines for weight loss.

  • A lightweight female body fat percentage of 12.4% was shown, which appears to be an average of rowers at the Australian National Championships. This is an interesting number as it seems to fall in the "essential fat" range of some body fat percentage charts.

  • The NCAA is quite familiar with wrestling and wrestlers' weight loss practices, and seems to paint lightweight rowing with the same brush. While there is much to be learned from the wrestling experience (as this presentation points out), in terms of practices and appropriate institutional control I think rowing is much better.

  • The presentation states that female "rowers [are] more prone to disturbing eating practices and weight control methods than males." Since females in the general population are more prone to eating disorders than males, it's not clear what this tells us.

  • A convincing case is made for the dangers of dehydration.

  • There is a discussion of performance degradation with rapid weight loss.

  • Some suggestions are made about how to preselect lightweights based on body fat percentages at weight and the importance of avoiding large differences between in-season and off-season weight.

  • Princeton's Managed Weight Certification Program is presented.

Although the top lightweight programs seem to do a pretty good job of policing their athletes' weight loss practices, I think there would be some real benefits to having USRowing guidelines in place. First is perhaps the most obvious - those programs without dedicated lightweight programs and little expertise in weight loss practices will have guidelines to follow. A secondary benefit, however, relates to the NCAA. Governing bodies exist to enforce rules, therefore nothing pleases them more than to have rules to enforce. A set of rules for lightweights will show the NCAA that the sport is safe and under control, and rules developed by rowers will be much better than those that might be developed by an NCAA committee. The guidelines would be another tool to use to continue chipping away at the NCAA bias against lightweights.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fixed vs. Dynamic Ergs

As I mentioned in my last post, Ivan Hooper, Sports Medicine/Sports Science coordinator for Rowing

Australia and Sports Physiotherapist at the Australian Institute of Sport, wrote a review of some studies in June of this year that looked at erg use. This review prompted several emails to Hooper on the merits of static vs. dynamic ergs. Hooper then wrote a follow-on piece in response.

In his response, Hooper states that:

- If you sit at front-stops on an erg and then push your legs down you move backwards relative to room by an amount equal to your leg length

- If you sit at front-stops in a single and then push your legs down (oars out of the water) you only move backwards relative to the bank by an amount ~20% of your leg length - the rest of the motion is taken by the boat moving away from you.

He goes on to note that:

The weight of the Rowperfect mobile power head is approximately 19kg, which is not that dissimilar to the weight of a single scull. This is the weight that an athlete’s leg drive is moving every stroke. Hence the manufacturer’s claims that the mechanics of the Rowperfect and on water rowing are similar.

Hooper says that the weight of a Concept II erg with sliders is about 35kg, heavier than a single and heavier than a Rowperfect. This leads him to believe that "sliders probably go a long way to replicating the mechanics of on water rowing, but still involve forces nearly double that of the Rowperfect." He makes several other points when discussing a static erg:

This kinetic energy, and / or inertia, has to decrease to zero for a change in direction to occur, thus something has to exert or absorb forces. Coming forward this force is absorbed by passive tissue structures of the knees resulting in an 8-10% increased leg compression (Kleshnev, 2005). It is reasonable to assume that the lumbar spine also absorbs some of this kinetic energy, creating an increase in lumbar flexion. Holt et al (2003) supported this when studying the effects of prolonged ergometer rowing. Over a 60 minute piece there were significant increases in the lumbar spine range of motion at the catch and total lumbar spine range of motion.

At the finish it is the large hip flexors that act to decrease and reverse the kinetic energy of the trunk (Rekers, 2006). This places very high loads on the lumbar spine, equivalent to doing prolonged sit ups. This places large sheer forces across the structures of the lumbar spine, potentially contributing to injury (Stallard, 1994).

When he discusses Kleshnev's findings that the legs work in a slower, static motion on a stationary erg, he says that

This may be an aspect that coaches wish to utilise if they are looking to enhance leg training, but I question the value of this when the load and contraction speeds are significantly different to on water rowing. The other issue is that once the legs fatigue, the trunk then becomes a greater contributor to total work performed. As mentioned above, this leads to a fatigue of the trunk muscles, placing lumbar spine structures at higher risk of injury.

In conclusion, the information that is currently available supports the idea that ergometer use is a risk factor for lumbar spine injury. It also suggests that the Rowperfect places much lower detrimental forces on the rower than the Concept II. It seems that placing the Concept II on sliders is also a way of reducing these detrimental forces, but this is probably not as effective as the Rowperfect.

Hooper concludes by making several interesting recommendations, beginning with a reduction in volume of work done on stationary Concept IIs. I'm surprised that research findings like these aren't more widely discussed. There is a huge amount of inertia in the rowing community working against any sort of wholesale change to a new type of ergometer starting with USRowing's testing procedure that makes exclusive use of the Concept II. It would seem, however, that when an alternative training machine exists, that better simulates on-water rowing while easing the stress on rowers' bodies, it would be given some serious consideration.

I'd immediately switch some of my training over to a Rowperfect if only I could find one of the darn things!

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

More on Erg Use

After writing two posts ago that I wasn't aware of any research on static vs. dynamic ergs, I came across some. Ivan Hooper, Sports Medicine/Sports Science coordinator for Rowing Australia and Sports Physiotherapist at the Australian Institute of Sport, wrote a review of some studies that looked at erg use in June of this year. It is short, just over one page, and you should take a few minutes to read it. Hooper starts out with a recap of the Kleshnev paper I discussed earlier, saying that he believes "all of these factors lead to an increased load applied to the structures of the trunk, and particularly the spine. Greater work done by the trunk could produce earlier fatigue of the trunk muscles, placing the spine at risk." If you recall, Kleshnev found that because the Concept II erg is static, forces are loaded on the body differently on the erg than on the water. Fast legs produce more power on the water and slow legs and strong upper body produces more power on the erg. A few highlights from Hooper:

Holt et al (2003) studied the effects of prolonged ergometer rowing. Over a 60 minute piece there were significant changes in the way the athletes moved. ... The authors attributed these changes to fatigue of the trunk muscles during the piece, reinforcing that fatigued trunk muscles may lead to low back injury.

In my experience, I feel that athletes often pay little attention to their rowing technique when on an ergometer. The level of coaching supervision is often limited as well. The result is that athletes spend time on the ergometer under greater trunk load than when on the water, with poor technique and poor postural positions. The end result is an increased load on the spine which can increase the risk of injury.

[T]hose athletes with current back pain regularly report that ergometer rowing aggravates their pain more than on water rowing. When this feedback occurs over a significant number of athletes over a number of years it is difficult to dismiss.

After Hooper wrote this, he apparently received quite a few emails about the use of Rowperfect ergs or Concept IIs on slides. In my next post I'll discuss Hooper's response.

I know these posts aren't lightweight specific, but I do think they're important to lightweights and since we're in a slow news time, I think it's worthwhile to have this discussion. Also, because I'll be getting into discussing products and brands, I think it's worthwhile to make some disclosures. I do not work for, receive payments from, nor do I expect to receive payments in the foreseeable future from either Concept II or Rowperfect (or any other rowing machine manufacturer). I have used Concept II ergs extensively, Concept II ergs with slides a few times, and I have never used a Rowperfect erg. I own a Concept II erg (no slides).

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Top 10 Lightweight Rowing Stories of 2006

This year, although not quite over, has been eventful for women's lightweight rowing. Herewith, in reverse order, is my take on the top ten stories of 2006:

10) Radcliffe's novice eight - Yes, they're novices. Yes, it's only the fall. But gosh, were they fast.

9) Tulsa begins developing a lightweight program - Tulsa evinces all the signs of an up-and-coming varsity rowing team and they've decided to develop a lightweight program. If they're successful they could be the next UCF and another model for how a relatively unknown rowing school can have a national impact. Nice HOCR light four finish too.

8) Pittsburgh is the top collegiate light four at the Head of the Charles - A darkhorse shows that rowing well as a crew beats rowing well as erg scores.

7) Men's heavyweight NCAA championship is voted down by the NCAA - A potential bullet to the heart of men's and women's lightweight rowing is avoided - for now.

6) Radcliffe coach Cecile Tucker becomes head of the CRCA lightweight committee - A lightweight only coach takes over leadership of the lightweight committee ending the most obvious conflict of interest (coaching both lightweights and heavyweights) battled by past chairmen. It's hard to make the CRCA pay attention to lightweights, but only a lightweight coach really has the incentive to fight for the category.

5) UCF and Bucknell race in the IRA final - Sure, there are always six boats in the final, including at times one or the other of these crews, but usually only to round out the field. I purposely said race the final because this year UCF and Bucknell belonged with the rest of the boats in the field and gave them a run for their money. Heck, UCF beat Wisconsin in the heat. The performance of these two crews symbolized just how tight the lightweight field is getting.

4) The IRA dam opening - The dam opening at IRA's created unfair conditions for all four national championship races. The mainstream rowing media reported inaccurate information. Other than the ECAC, no one in the rowing establishment acknowledged the debacle until just last week, 6 months after the fact. We all deserve better.

3) Georgetown finishes second in the nation - The Hoyas finally get tired of saying, "We were fourth," and row to a second place finish at IRAs. This was a long time in coming and is further evidence that there are no more "gimmes" in women's lightweight rowing.

2) Wisconsin wins its third national championship in a row - It's official, Wisconsin is a women's lightweight rowing dynasty. Wisco keeps winning, not for lack of competition, but for skill and heart.

1) Coach Mary Shofner leaves Wisconsin - Coach Shofner, who led the Badgers to three national championships, decided to leave the program at the end of the 2006 spring season. A loss for Wisconsin became the Stanford heavyweights' gain. Most surprising is that she didn't end up as a head coach. In particular the biggest loser in this story is Penn who was looking for a head coach this summer. Instead of begging Shofner to move east, they got, well, someone else.

There you have my top stories of 2006. Did I miss anything? Get the order wrong? Let me know what you think because in a few short weeks we'll be trying to predict the top stories of 2007.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Everything You Wanted to Know About Rowing Injuries

Christmas break is always a good time to try to let your injuries heal, so to help you understand what's going on a little bit better, here is a paper on rowing injuries. It covers everything from back pain to track bites (including "rower's rump!"). A couple of findings from other studies noted in this paper:

The researchers noted that throughout a maximal rowing trial on an ergometer, lumbar flexion of the subjects increased from 75% to 90% of their maximum range of motion, most likely due to muscle fatigue.

The observed risk factors [for back pain] include: increased training volume using multiple training methods; the use of a rowing ergometer for minutes at one time; greater height and weight; and beginning the sport prior to the age of 16 years.

Howell found a high positive correlation between hyperflexion of the lumbar spine and incidence of low back pain in elite lightweight oarswomen.

This study also reported a high negative correlation between adherence to a stretching programme and occurrence of low back pain.

There's a whole lot more to read in the paper.

The Teitz report that found the risk factors for low back pain actually listed more factors than those included in the quote above, including the "use of a hatchet oar blade." That finding is interesting because I've lately heard some speculation on the effect of various types of blades on the backs of lightweight women. The Teitz study found hatchets associated with back pain among all rowers so it seems logical (although not supported by any research I've seen) that bigger or more technologically advanced blades that give rowers a bigger bite of water would be more stressful on the backs of lightweight women. That's just speculation, though, and it would be nice to see some research on the subject.

The association of a lot of erg work with back pain also makes me think of the discussion we had earlier about the difference between rowing on an erg and in a boat. We talked a lot about when and how force was applied and how the necessity of moving the rower's body on a static erg creates different forces than those in a boat. Aaron Benson explained how dynamic ergs such as the Rowperfect or Concept II on slides makes the erg more like a boat. Again, it seems logical to believe that a static Concept II erg is harder on the back than a dynamic erg. I've seen no research on this question either, but I may try to get some comments on this from Concept II and Rowperfect.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Anonymous Tipster"

While reading the IRA story in the USRowing 2006 Yearbook this evening, I came across this passage:

In the ensuing days and weeks, however, research by an anonymous tipster revealed that park records indicated that the dam was opened during racing, which would create unequal flow conditions across the course; a follow up investigation by the ECAC confirmed the information.

The anonymous tipster is, of course, yours truly. Yes, it would have been nice to see the FITD name mentioned, but the important point is that the truth was printed. Almost as important, I think, is that this article was written by Ed Hewitt of row2k. Although Ed and I traded emails about the dam when I discovered the true situation, he never corrected his initial story on row2k stating that the dam was closed. I always felt this was unethical and beneath the fine work he does for rowing (yes, I do contribute to row2k), and I'm glad to see him correct it, even if it was in a different forum. Ed has a serious problem with anyone writing anonymously, and with blogs in general, so I know it wasn't easy for him to write this passage, but he did it. (I find his concerns about blogs particularly interesting given that row2k is one of the oldest blogs on the web. Think about it - row2k is a daily diary of links. That's called a link blog.)

Rowing News, however, is a different matter. Although they finally printed a single letter to the editor about the IRA dam, they simply said they received a lot of those letters but never admitted they printed inaccurate information. They only admitted they had Cornell's lane wrong, which I also pointed out to them. I've been lectured in the past by Chip Davis about the difference between journalists and bloggers and the longer Rowing News goes without printing the truth (they never will now, of course), the clearer that difference becomes. Rowing News apparently has no fact checkers while bloggers have their readers as fact checkers. I'm really trying not to belabor this thing (too late, huh?), but I took a lot of grief from the "mainstream rowing media" over this story (as well as from several readers) and it really burns me up that they don't have the moral backbone to chalk this one up to experience and correct it. A silver lining, however, is the fact that the ECAC admitted the problem right away so we can believe that they will take steps to avoid a replay. While criticizing me for my anonymous status, I sometimes wonder if rowing's journalists don't enjoy their "known" status a bit too much when they pal around with the officials, referees, and coaches whose pronouncements they accept as truth. It would be hard to write about an open dam at IRAs if I was worried about losing my press pass and officials' party invitation in 2007.

Sometimes people, even anonymous ones, have no ulterior motives, they simply give of their time to try to better a sport they love.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dad Vail Fours and Eights Revisited

Last year around this time I attempted to answer a small debate going on in the comments to a Dedicated Lightweight Programs post. The issue was whether the light fours or light eights were more competitive at Vails. The answer, as you might imagine, was "It depends." There were many more entries in the fours event but the eights were closer to the speed of the heavy eights. In 2006, there were still many more light fours entries than eights (20 vs. 3) but the winning light four was also closer in speed to its heavyweight counterpart than the winning light eight - 2.9% slower vs. 5.4%. Last year the respective percentages were 3.3% vs. 2.5%.

To provide some context for this kind of comparison I looked at other races as well as world records and I'll do the same thing again. At Sprints, the light four was only 0.7% off the heavy four while the light eight was 5.8% off the heavy eight. The percentages for the prior year were 2.3% and 5.1%. The fours at Sprints were a bit of an aberration because the four from Princeton that had been dominant all year crabbed in the heat and was relegated to the petites. As a result, although that boat's time (which I used here) was faster than the grand final winner's, the next boat was so far back that it was not pushed at all. Because there are no light fours or eights at Worlds, I used doubles and quads as proxies last time and we'll look again because the record have changed. The light 2x is 2.8% slower than the heavy 2x and the light 4x is 3.5% slower than the heavy 4x.

All these numbers mean that the light eights still have some distance to make up before they are comparable to their elite counterparts and both elite and college women are slower than their heavyweight counterparts than are the light men. The fours, however, are closer to the elites' gap. As far as Vails, as measured by the heavy fours, the light fours seem to have been faster this year and given the eights' drop-off, that event seems to have been more competitive than the eights. In fairness to the eights winner, Dayton, it may have been that the field just wasn't strong enough to give them a good run and if a faster boat had entered the times may have been much quicker. This was a year when the light eight field split between Dad Vail and ECAC, only to have ECAC cancel the event. (This is a tangent, I know, but that state of affairs should not be tolerated. The competing lightweight coaches should agree on which event to attend or one of the regattas should step up and organize the crews.)

Just to round out the analysis, on the erg the light women's record is 7.3% off the heavyweight record, a smaller gap than the light men to heavy men (which is 7.6%). Maybe lightweight women really are better on the water than on the erg!

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Male Practice Players

Double-A Zone notes that the "NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics has issued a position statement calling for a ban on the use of male practice players in women’s sports." Also, the Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee has recommended legislation to the Division III Management Council to restrict the use of male practice players.

My first thought upon reading this was to wonder what effect it would have on those lightweight women who often practice with men. In some programs this is unheard of while in others it is relatively common. Given the right length of piece, a good heavyweight men's four can provide a great sparring partner for a light eight and a men's eight running up your rudder can provide good motivation in a head piece. In addition, we've all seen occasions when men fill in for missing rowers in women's boats so that the boat can get on the water. We've also seen men race in mixed boats with women.

After reading the NCAA committee position statement, however, it's pretty clear that this rule is not aimed at these kinds of practices. It discusses "recruiting male undergraduate students, not to participate on men’s varsity teams, but solely for the purpose of participating in practice with female athletic teams." The men women row against in my examples are on the men's varsity team. Nonetheless, well intentioned NCAA initiatives have run into trouble when applied to rowing in the past, and some diligence will be needed here to make sure any future rule has the proper language defining a "male practice player."

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Lightweights and Weight Reduction

It seems pretty clear that everyone who reads FITD understands that losing weight over a long period of time is better than losing weight over a short period. "Better," however, can mean a lot of things. When we talk about better here, most people seem to include healthier and with less risk of harm during competition. We also intuitively believe that fast weight loss hurts performance, although I, for one, have not seen any proof of that. Well, I can stop looking. Here is a 1994 study from the UK which documents the difference in performance in elite British lightweight women when one group lost weight over 2 months and another lost weight over 4 months. The results show "that the longer weight-reduction period was associated with significantly improved VO2max (p < 0.01), Tvent (p < 0.005), PP (p < 0.05) and KF (p < 0.05)."* In the 2 month group, meanwhile, "Tvent (p < 0.02) and KF (p < 0.02) decreased." The link only goes to an abstract so I can't see details like how much weight was lost in each group, but it is stated to be 6-7% of body weight (seems like quite a bit to me). What this means then, is that if your first race is in March and you have some weight to lose, you should already be on your way down.

* Maximal oxygen intake (VO2max), respiratory anaerobic threshold (Tvent), upper body anaerobic peak power (PP), and knee flexor (KF)

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fours Rankings

I've added the fall V4 rankings to the side bar. A reader asked that I track the fours ranking through the season as I do the eights, so I'll give it a shot. I didn't do this in the past because it's very difficult to do and this year will probably be even worse. The difficulty stems from the fact that there is no single championship race for fours and many of the top ranked fours do not race each other during the season. The only time there was a good mix of fours was at the Knecht Cup and that looks to be in trouble this year with Windermere on the same weekend. For example, what if Pitt wins Dad Vail and Wisconsin wins Eastern Sprints, but they didn't race each other at Knecht - who is faster? It will be very difficult to know. Also, I start out the eights in their preseason ranking. I don't do a fours preseason ranking because it's not always clear who will race in that category and I could end up ranking a boat that never races. As a result, I'll start the fours in the spring in their fall finish ranking.

What I'd really like to do is run a prediction market for both V8 and V4 rankings and give some sort of a prize for the winner. That would absolutely be the best way to rank. Even if I found a site that would let me set a market up for free, the prize aspect would no doubt run afoul of NCAA gambling rules. A prize would be critical to make people actually use their best judgment rather than vote for their favorites (like the polls). If anyone has any other ideas on this, let me know.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Regatta Race Order

The recent news that the NCAA is considering moving the women's basketball championship back one week to avoid conflicting with the men's championship made me think about the order of finals at major regattas. Somewhere along the line many regattas decided to move the women's final after the men's final. The prime example of this is IRAs where last spring the order was men's heavy eight, women's light eight, and men's light eight.

I would guess that this was originally done as a show of support for the women, giving their final a better (later) spot on the program than the heavy men. The reality, unfortunately, is a bit different. Those who attended the IRA finals saw the stands and shoreline near the finish tower fill to capacity in anticipation of the heavyweight men's championship. Once that race finished spectators moved in to see the medal presentations and then promptly began to wander off. As the light women came across the line, only those specifically interested in that race seemed to be watching. That was a decent enough crowd, but no heavyweight men fans lingered to see what the lightweight women were all about.

I assume this ordering of the races was well intentioned, but it doesn't work. The order should be light men, light women, heavy men. It would be nice if the heavyweight men's fans stayed to watch the lightweight championships, but they don't. At least not yet. We should take advantage of the forming crowd and run the light women just before the heavy men. With the increasing quality of the lightweight women's field, I have no doubt it would be a show worth watching.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm Pulling for China

The Asian Games are going on in Doha, Qatar right now and I think what is happening there may ultimately have an impact on collegiate women's lightweight rowing in the United States. China, home of the world champion lightweight 2x and lightweight 4x, is hoping to display its rowing prowess in Doha and use the Games as one more stepping stone to glory in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

I hope China does well in the women's lightweight event in Beijing (after the US, of course) for the good of the category. Olympic lightweight rowing is constantly under attack and a good showing by China will help the IOC look favorably on lightweights. Why? A couple of reasons. First, the IOC likes sports that increase participation around the world and until recently China hasn't been a huge player in rowing. When lightweight rowing was added it was meant to increase participation by countries such as those in Asia with people of smaller stature (although Yao Ming may argue with that). A good showing in the lightweight 2x by China would be proof of concept.

Secondly, if a country like China, an economic and demographic powerhouse, decides that they have a competitive advantage in lightweight women's rowing, they can be a powerful positive influence on the IOC when the subject of lightweights is raised yet again. Perhaps most importantly in that calculus, they are not the United States or Western Europe and would therefore be more likely to receive a favorable reception from an international body.

Perhaps this is the trickle down theory of lightweight rowing, but increased prominence for lightweight women internationally will result in more USRowing attention for the category and subsequently more collegiate attention. The pie just gets bigger.

This week, grab a Tsingtao and Ganbei for China!

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Monday, December 04, 2006

An Idea for the National Championship

With the announcement of the BCS match-ups come the annual calls for a I-A college football playoff system. Although this world of big-time sports seems far removed from lightweight rowing, it reminded me of a rowing championship format espoused by Mike Teti. Before I go farther, let me say that this idea comes from Mike, but I will no doubt not explain it quite the way he would and may get some key elements wrong. So, the idea is not mine, but any differences from the originator's actual concept are the result of my own faulty memory or misunderstanding.

In essence, the plan would work like this:

- The championship would include men's and women's heavyweights and lightweights, varsity eights only.

1) For each category there would be 12 entrants who would race in two qualifying heats (two 6 boat races)

2) Three top boats from each qualifier would move on to a quarterfinal (6 boat race)

3) The top three boats in the quarterfinal would race again in the semi-final (3 boat race)

4) The top two boats in the semi would race again in a match race to decide the national championship (2 boat race)

So, we have a tournament format, for V8s only, and all four collegiate rowing categories would have a NCAA championship. The idea is that the tournament format would create increasing excitement, building toward the last match race for the national championship (I may have added an extra race in there). By only allowing V8s we cut to the heart of the matter, avoid those silly team championships, and avoid the embarrassment of listening to the "national champion" 2V pair tell an interviewer how they just started rowing together last week. To make it a true championship event, all categories would need to be present and racing for a national championship.

That's the idea and, again, my apologies for any deviation from the original scheme. What do you think? Could this work? How would you improve it? Other ideas?

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

2006 Fall WLV4 Rankings

FITD's fall rankings based on fall results:

1) Pittsburgh

2) Princeton

3) Tulsa

4) MIT

5) Radcliffe

6) Pacific Lutheran

7) URI

8) UMass

9) Georgia

10) Georgia State

The first three crews are pretty straightforward as they were the top three at the Head of the Charles and were all reasonably close to each other. Judgment comes into play with fourth place as the fourth boat in Boston, Pacific Lutheran, was almost a minute back from Tulsa. Meanwhile MIT and Radcliffe only raced fours at the Foot of the Charles. In my judgment, I think it reasonable to assume that MIT and Radcliffe would be closer to Tulsa and Princeton than PLU's 52 seconds, so MIT comes in 4th and Radcliffe is 5th. I realize that these boats were comprised of members of the eights that raced in Boston and between this ranking and the eights ranking some of these rowers will be ranked twice, a state of affairs which seemingly shouldn't be allowed. Worrying about that, however, would introduce even more speculation so the boats are ranked as they raced.

The fourth and fifth finishers in Boston, Pacific Lutheran and URI, come in 6th and 7th. They are followed by UMass, which was 57 seconds back from Radcliffe at the Foot, Georgia, who beat Georgia State at the Hooch, and then Georgia State, the sixth place boat in Boston. UMass was closer to MIT at the Foot than Georgia State was to Tulsa in Boston and since Georgia beat Georgia State by only three seconds, UMass is ranked higher. This is all a bit convoluted, but hopefully it makes some sense.

The story of the season, of course, is Pitt, followed closely by Tulsa. In the spring, Pitt has been racing a four, not an eight, but if they have some lightweight depth this year it would be great to see them put out an eight. They did race an eight in the fall, which won the Head of the Ohio, so perhaps we'll see it at Dad Vails. Tulsa seems to be in the midst of a rowing renaissance with a new boathouse coming and the Head of the Oklahoma in their backyard. With an emphasis on lightweights we should hear the Tulsa name a lot this spring. I can see Tulsa hitting IRAs (if not this year then next) as the next UCF. It was also interesting to see Pacific Lutheran in the mix. They race lightweights now and then but hopefully a decent result in Boston will encourage them to put some focus on the lights this spring.

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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is There a List?

A recent article in the Louisville Cardinal features Louisville rower Beth Daunhauer. It's a typical profile and Daunhauer comes off as a smart, talented rower. What's interesting, however, is this sentence in the article's first paragraph:

[S]he is ranked in the top three in the U.S. for lightweight college rowers and she is the number one under 23 rower in the country.

Someone is keeping a list of top US collegiate lightweight rowers? And a list of top U23 rowers? This is some interesting news! I wonder how we can get a look at that list? I suspect, of course, that this is just an example of another student newspaper writer who doesn't quite understand the sport, unknowingly twisting something they were told in the course of researching their story. Nonetheless, it does make you wonder just a little bit if there really is a list out there...

This paragraph unknowingly provides another commentary on our sport. As best I can tell, the "number three ranking" may have come about because Daunhauer finished third among college lightweights at last year's CRASH-Bs (although second was a Canadian). Later that year, in the summer, Daunhauer went to USRowing Nationals and finished second in the intermediate lightweight 2x and second in the elite lightweight 4x. Here is the interesting point - if I'm correct, this paragraph highlights Daunhauer's erg finish and never mentions her nationals rowing finish. Isn't her sport rowing? Granted she also ergs, but that is simply a means to an end, the end being rowing fast. Americans have a very difficult time with true team sports. We can't handle the lack of individual statistics so we grasp for anything available. Other than the single, though, this is a team sport and phrases such as "Sally led the boat to victory" are usually completely out of place.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

CRCA - I've Been Remiss!

Somehow I missed taking a look at the 8/28/06 CRCA Board of Directors conference call minutes. Now that I've read them, I found two things quite interesting. First is this report:

There was some discussion that non-NCAA Women’s Teams be allowed to join the CRCA (lightweights). This met with Board approval with the understanding that these coaches could not serve as Directors on the Board of the CRCA.
Huh? Lightweight teams aren't members of the organization whose stated mission is "to unify collegiate women’s rowing coaches, to act as a collective voice, and to inform collegiate women’s rowing coaches on issues related to rowing?" An organization that serves "as the primary adviser on collegiate women's rowing issues to the United States Rowing Association?" Oh, don't worry, as long as no lightweight coaches defile the board, they can join. Look, either the CRCA "exists to unify collegiate women’s rowing coaches" or it exists to unify heavyweight women's rowing coaches. This is why they lack credibility. If this is a heavyweight only organization, fine, say so. If not, why make lightweights second class citizens? Just be honest.

Second is the update on lightweight issues from the head of the lightweight committee, Cecile Tucker.
The major point of discussion was whether the CRCA would provide awards to Lightweight Athletes and Lightweight Coaches. She agreed to determine how many colleges sponsored 'varsity' lightweight programs and would provide that information back to the board.
Obviously I think this is an excellent step and one on which I've posted before. This idea of determining the number of "varsity" lightweight programs is particularly interesting. There are a couple of ways of looking at it. First, is undoubtedly the board's way - we need to know how many programs there are to determine if an award would be meaningful. OK, that seems reasonable. A cynic, however, might say that it's a question asked because given the fluid nature of women's lightweight rowing, there are several very different but still "correct," answers. A look back at my own attempt to answer this question will show you what I mean. There are all sorts of definitional problems here. Let's take Bucknell. Is Bucknell a varsity lightweight program? It's a varsity program all right, but it only races lightweights at IRAs (and perhaps one other race during the season). Is it a varsity lightweight program? I can answer that with a yes while the CRCA board can answer that with a no. Another point here is that we could accept that there are enough programs (there were 12 good boats entered at IRAs last year plus a few more at Dad Vails) and use the awards to promote lightweight rowing and help it to grow. Before reading anything more into this, let's just see where it goes.

One quick note on the lightweight committee. That group has a thankless task working within the structure of the CRCA for the betterment of lightweight rowing. It's easy to sit outside and take shots (as I do), but much more difficult to be inside trying to make it work. The CRCA is the group that lightweights have to work with and the committee does the best it can within the constraints it is given. I've never heard, directly or indirectly, any member criticize the CRCA.

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USRowing Convention

The USRowing annual convention begins tomorrow in Portland, Oregon. In addition to events and speakers of interest to all rowers, there are two events of particular interest to lightweight women. The first event is Saturday's meeting of the CRCA lightweight committee. I'm not sure what is on the agenda, but perhaps FITD can get a post meeting report.

The second event is Dr. Tim Hosea's presentation on lightweight weigh-ins. If you remember, Dr. Hosea heads up a team looking at weigh-ins and he will be reporting their findings. I've asked Dr. Hosea for his report after he presents it on Saturday. If he sends it to me (no response yet) I'll be sure to publish it's contents. Even if the effect isn't immediate, I expect that this report will be quite influential in how weigh-ins are handled in collegiate races.

Other meetings of interest are the NCAA/CRCA meeting and the ECAC/IRA meetings on Friday. I can't help but wonder if any lightweight issues will be discussed in the NCAA/CRCA meeting and if last year's botched IRA championship will be discussed in the ECAC/IRA meeting.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lightweights Rowing as Heavyweights Until IRAs

In response to the UCF schedule post, a reader commented that "these races mean little since their best rowers will compete in their
1v and 2v htwt. boats until that racing season is complete." Other readers pointed out that the races mean quite a bit to those lightweights racing in them, not least because 2V athletes have a chance to show what they can do in 1V races. Nonetheless, the first reader makes a good point when (s)he asks if "this practice is good for lightweight womens rowing as a whole?"

Anyone who's read much of FITD knows that I would far and away prefer that the UCF lightweights race as lightweights all year, bringing a higher level of competition to the non-championship, in-season races. Unfortunately, though, if I were the UCF coach, I'm sure I would also race the better lightweights in the heavyweight 1V. I'd like to think I wouldn't use them in the 2V, however. In programs such as UCF, without separate lightweight teams, the heavyweights will always take precedence. The reasons are many, but they begin with the importance of the women's heavyweights in the eyes of athletic directors. Because of Title IX and NCAA support, for athletic directors, heavyweight women will always be a top priority, taking precedence over the men as well. This priority is further strengthened by the perception that there is no competition among lightweight women and therefore a championship means less. Just this summer, a heavyweight Georgetown male rower (now graduated) told me how the Georgetown lightweights were talking about their national ranking last season, which he said was four at the time. His response was, "Yeah, out of six!" Erroneous perceptions like this die hard.

This attitude of heavyweight priority is also the prime reason why heavyweight coaches in general, and the CRCA specifically, do not support lightweight women. They say they do, of course, but it's not true, because they believe separate lightweight programs would only draw resources away from the heavies. (If you have doubts, re-read my exchange with the CRCA president, Andy Teitelbaum.) The troublesome aspect of this is not that heavyweight coaches don't support lightweights, it's that they're not honest about it. If they laid out their concerns, perhaps they could be addressed and the sport would be better off. Phony support helps no one. (I've been criticized for this position before, and I'm sure I will again, but no one has yet shown me how heavyweight women's coaches, with the possible exception of Jim Dietz, work for the betterment of lightweight women.)

In a perfect world, the field would be deep enough to make IRAs an invitation only event for lightweight women and the preceding season would mean something. That's wishful thinking, however, because even for the heavyweights, only two regattas are important. A lightweight crew could lose every race during the season, but win IRAs and still be national champions. For heavyweights, they only have to win their regional race and then NCAAs and they too, are national champions. There should be some penalty for poor results during the season (or not racing at all).

I don't mean to imply that UCF will do poorly without their top two or three rowers, because I don't think that's the case at all. That squad is deep enough to still do very well. Others, however, are not. In some ways, though, this is like complaining about the weather - there isn't a whole lot that can be done right now. The priority must be to grow the sport. Until more boats are racing lightweight, we can't expect to be selective. In the past couple of years the category has grown tremendously, mostly in competitiveness, but also in size. The sport would be helped if UCF raced its top lightweight rowers all season as lightweights, but I understand the pressures to do otherwise. It hurts the IRA boat because it would be faster if it was together all season, but it often takes most of the season to find the right combination anyway. At least they do race lightweights during the season.

This all points to one thing - I can't think of anything in women's lightweight rowing right now more important than growth.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

UCF Releases Spring Schedule

The spring season is beginning to come into focus as UCF releases its spring schedule. Two races stand out - an April 7th race in Boston against Radcliffe, MIT, and Princeton and the Windermere Classic the following weekend on April 14th. Things tend to solidify closer to the season as other online schedules disagree with UCF's, but given that UCF has put out a press release, I'll assume they have the best information.

This is good racing for UCF as it gives them a couple of early opportunities to see their main competition before IRAs, with enough time in between to make some changes if need be. With this announcement too, it looks like Windermere may become the new Knecht Cup. At one time I thought Villanova might change the Knecht date but with Easter on April 8th and the A10 championships on April 21st, I'd say it's pretty much set. I wish UCF would also head north to Dad Vails since there aren't a lot of lightweights racing in the South/Central Regionals the same weekend. Nonetheless, you've got to hand it to the Golden Knights, they're going on the attack.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

2006 Fall WLV8 Rankings

FITD's fall rankings based on fall results:

1) Princeton

2) Wisconsin

3) Radcliffe

4) MIT

5) Georgetown

6) UCF

7) Stanford

8) Marist

9) California

10) Dayton

The first five crews are pretty obvious - they finished 1 - 5 at the Head of the Charles and the Princeton Chase confirmed that result for those who raced there. The only argument here might be those who say that Princeton's 2V should be third but, sorry, this only ranks 1Vs so a school only gets one boat.

Some judgment comes into play for positions five through ten. UCF finishes 6th because, despite not racing in the Charles and really only showing up once, they dominated the Head of the Hooch. They also get to live a bit off of their results last spring. Stanford comes in at 7th, based on it's races against California. Cal raced in the Charles so we have some means to compare Stanford with the other Charles boats and Stanford's margins over Cal puts them ahead of Marist. Marist was 6th at the Charles and so, in a bit of a surprise, comes in at 8th. Cal followed Marist in Boston and takes 9th, while Dayton, which also only raced once (the Tennessee), comes in 10th. Quite honestly, while the Stanford, Marist, Cal order is correct, where UCF and Dayton fit is an educated guess. UCF and Dayton raced no one who was at Boston so comparisons are very difficult. Dayton may in fact be faster than some of the crews ahead of it, but those crews get the benefit of the doubt for racing at the Charles.

So this is the way the fall shakes out. The major story was the strength of the Princeton squad, while a minor story was the success of MIT. Princeton will start the spring season as the crew to beat. To be fair, Wisconsin was only 14 seconds back at Boston, a margin which would narrow considerably in a 2k race, with Radcliffe only another 14 seconds back from Wisco. Perhaps even more impressive than Princeton's Boston result, however, was it's Chase result, where the Tigers finished 1 -2 over Radcliffe and Georgetown. We don't need a student newspaper article quoting rowers talking about team depth to know Princeton has it. With a likely 12, or even 16 rowers who could be in Princeton's varsity eight, there will be no rest for the weary on Lake Carnegie come spring. MIT, meanwhile, continues to build off of last year's impressive IRA petites win by finishing fourth in Boston. So often a rebuilding program squanders the previous season's momentum, but MIT seems determined not to let that happen.

There may have been other lightweight eights racing this fall, but if they weren't designated as lightweights, they couldn't be ranked.

In a few days I'll post the fours ranking.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Erg Backlash?

Could we be seeing an erg backlash? Doubtful (old habits die hard), but it was interesting to see the Dr. Rowing column in Rowing News challenge coaches to "unbias" themselves from the erg. The column was prompted by a father who wrote wondering why his son, an accomplished high school rower, was unable to make an erg boat this fall in college. Whatever the specifics of that case may be, Dr. Rowing lays down a challenge to coaches everywhere - run winter training and the spring season normally, but never look at erg scores. Set the boat based entirely on seat racing.

Andy Anderson (Dr. Rowing) relates a tale of two ergs - Matthias Siejkowski, the 2k world record holder, and Rob Waddell, whose record he broke. Siejkowski is a "renowned anchor," who has never rowed in a fast boat. Waddell won the Olympic single in 2000. The two fastest ergs of all time and one makes boats slow while the other makes boats fast. Anderson echoes FITD when he says that the erg "may be the worst thing to have happened to the coaching profession."

Anderson promises some ink to any coach who takes him up on his challenge. Of course, the dependence on the erg makes one wonder if seat racing is a lost art. Can coaches still run seat races in a way that never allows rowers to know when they are being seat raced until it's too late? We know rowing is all about making boats go fast, but it's so easy to believe that's the same thing as making a 2k go by fast on an erg. Why seat race your biggest erg? She'll beat everyone, right? Ask Matthias Siejkowski's coaches.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this erg challenge appeared in the pages of Rowing News. Rowing News is typically a mouthpiece for the rowing establishment so an erg backlash there may mean more to come.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fall Rankings

Thanksgiving is here and that means it's time for FITD's fall rankings. Hopefully by the end of Thanksgiving break I'll have the rankings up. I'll also do fours and try to get them out a bit earlier than last year. These will be end-of-season fall rankings, not spring season predictions - they come later. In many cases the end-of-season rankings are pretty straightforward, but not always. I'll explain my reasoning with the post. You can see last year's rankings post here . The fours rankings post is here.

Tulsa Gets a New Boathouse

Back in October the Tulsa student newspaper published a story about Tulsa crew's new boathouse. Tulsa's lightweight four had an impressive finish at the Head of the Charles and Coach Kevin Harris plans to build the lightweight program. Tulsa is a great example of where growth can be found in the lightweight category. With some focus on a moderately sized but growing category like lightweight women, a relatively young but growing program may be able to have a national impact.

Meanwhile, Coach Harris paints such a nice picture of the Tulsa community that I'm thinking of sending in an application next year!

One interesting point is the fact that the main boathouse benefactor is a Yale alumnus. The story doesn't say if he rowed at Yale, but even if he didn't he was no doubt aware of the importance of the sport at the school. It's great to see a member of the community that was responsible for the first intercollegiate athletic competition in the US bring that sport to an area of the country some on the coasts used to think of as unrowable. Although some politicians may refer to the center of the country as "fly-over country," it's definitely not "row-over country."

MIT Release

There's a nice press release on MIT's web site about the lightweights' performance at the Foot. These articles are always self-serving but I think MIT deserves the positive review. Not too long ago MIT was often unable to field a competitive eight for the championship regattas and would forgo that category for a V4. They could be competitive there, but a fast eight seemed out of their grasp. I think those days are coming rapidly to an end. The Engineers appear to have a fairly deep team this year and Coach Jenkins seems to have a good start on building off of last year's IRA petite final win.

While I'm on the subject of MIT, maybe someone there can clear up an urban legend. The story goes that the architect who designed the MIT boathouse neglected to consider how new and trailered boats would be brought into the boathouse. The result was a turning staircase in the middle of the house and only one way to bring a boat into the bays - from the dock. The solution was to cut a gate in the fence lining the river just above the docks so new and trailered boats could be handed down to the docks from the sidewalk. Obviously such a mistake would be a bit embarrassing to a school nicknamed the Engineers. Is this true? (The architect went to Harvard, I'm guessing?)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Speed Orders

At last weekend's speed orders at least two recent graduates competed in the lightweight single. Sara Bates, a 2006 Radcliffe graduate was 5th of 21 and Claire Wallace, a 2006 Wisconsin graduate, was 11th. Also, you may recall that Katie Sweet, a 2005 Wisconsin graduate was a member of the US lightweight quad last summer. I'm encouraged to see women who rowed as lightweights in college working themselves into the national team mix. Most national team lightweights seem to have rowed as heavyweights in college and drop weight after graduation (some, of course, were lightweights in school but rowed for smaller programs with no lightweight boats). I think the fact that these lightweights are rowing after school is a sign that the college lightweight category is becoming an established part of US rowing. They're not simply participating, however, they're excelling. Sweet's achievement over the summer and Bates's and Wallace's finishes in speed orders mark them as real contenders for national and Olympic team slots.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Foot of the Charles Results

On Saturday the New England schools took to the Charles for one last race in 2006 - The Foot of the Charles. In the varsity four competition (at least I assume that's what it is, it's not named in the results) MIT was the top lightweight boat, finishing 14th out of 40. Radcliffe was next, 9 seconds back, followed by UMass, Radcliffe B and C, and MIT B. In the novice eight race the mighty Radcliffe freshmen were third, 20 seconds off of the Radcliffe heavies and 5 seconds off of the Dartmouth heavies. The MIT freshmen were 17th out of 30, almost two minutes behind Radcliffe. MIT was followed by the Radcliffe and MIT B boats. In the varsity eight race MIT lights were 3rd out of eight boats while the Radcliffe lights were 8th. I'm not entirely clear on what this race is since it's small and the results are often odd. I'm sure a reader can tell me but I assume these are 2 or 3Vs? [Update: See comments.]

MIT has to be pleased with their fours performance. They beat their own heavyweights as well as a few other heavyweight A boats and a whole lot of heavyweight B and C boats, not to mention Radcliffe's lights. This is also a nice turnaround from last year when MIT was almost a minute behind Radcliffe. The Radcliffe freshman eight continues to churn up the waters, here apparently facing stacked heavyweight boats. This boat appears to be very, very fast and unless it's broken up to bring some rowers into varsity boats, it should be exciting to watch in the spring. It seems untouchable at this point and it would likely go through undefeated, much as Princeton did last season. One of the effects of the Radcliffe freshmen has been to overshadow the MIT freshmen who are having a good fall in their own right. In the middle of the heavyweight pack on Saturday, they beat several heavyweight A boats, including their own.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on Erg vs. Boat

As a result of my last post on ergs vs. boats, Aaron Benson posted a comment in which he noted that the difference between footstretcher and handle force comes about because "a stationary ergometer requires the rower to accelerate and decelerate the mass of the upper body at both ends of the stroke in order to reverse direction." He goes on to point out that this "disparity between footstretcher force and handle force can be minimized by rowing on Slides, or by using a RowPerfect ergometer."

This comment reminded me of several discussions I've had about how much of an advantage a rower gets from erging on a slide vs. without a slide. The consensus is that because of the effect Coach Benson describes above, less energy is required to go up and down the slide so a rower should go faster on an erg on slides. Apparently there is a study by Fritz Hagerman that I've seen referenced but haven't actually read, that shows more energy expended on slides as measured by heart rate. This is counterintuitive, however, and it's not clear why would be so. I also recall reading that the benefit mostly shows up in longer pieces (longer than 2k). I can't find either of these studies online or I'd link to them here (if anyone has them let me know).

Another factor that comes into play with slides (or the RowPerfect) is technique. The point of slides is to simulate an actual boat so it seems reasonable to think that a rower with better technique would benefit more from a slide while a rower with poor technique might actually suffer (banging into the ends, etc.). I've seen both. This all raises an interesting question - could you seat race on land by rigging together two sets of eight ergs on slides and looking at the average "boat" time (the monitors can be rigged to do that)? Better than single, static ergs, but still not a boat. Now if we could just put the ergs on slides on top of telephone poles laid on the floor... Oh heck, maybe we should just get in a boat.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Erg Technique vs. Water Technique

After I linked to the Rowing Biomechanics Newsletter a few posts ago, I looked back at some past issues and found one that sheds a little more light on the erg discussion we've been having. At the risk of getting off topic (this isn't lightweight specific) or too technical, I thought I'd mention it.

This issue discusses handle and force measurements taken from a rower while rowing an erg and while rowing a single. On an erg, foot-stretcher force develops sooner than in a boat, but leg velocity is higher in a boat. This higher leg velocity means a higher percentage of power comes from the legs in a boat when compared to the erg. On the erg then, more power comes from the arms than in a boat. There is, however, greater acceleration of the arms on the drive on the water. If you look at the power breakdown among legs, trunk, and arms, it looks like this:

Erg - 37%,41%,22%
Boat - 45%,37%,18%

Quite often you see some rowers with good erg scores, and many land only rowers, whip the handle in a way you know wouldn't work on the water. Maybe this is why. There is no claim here that the tested rower has perfect form, only that given the same rower, one rows differently in a boat than on an erg. The Newsletter's author, Valery Kleshnev, concludes that,
a comparison of various rowers’ profiles show that the power production differs between ergo and on-water. Rowers with fast legs produce more power on-water, while athletes with slower legs and stronger upper body have relatively higher ergo scores.

This may be stating the obvious, but even before accounting for technique and chemistry, rowing an erg isn't quite the same as rowing a boat.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

It Keeps Getting Better

More news today about the benefits of being a lightweight: "Want to live to a healthy 85? Stay trim." In this case staying trim means a Body Mass Index below 25. For a 5'6" woman to hit a 25 BMI she'd have to pork all the way up to 155, so this isn't exactly limited to lightweights. (On the other hand, at 130 a 5'6" woman has a BMI of 21, right in the middle of the 18 to 24 normal range.)

It's really a combination of nine risk factors that determine your chances of living to a ripe old age. Here they are with my guess as to how lightweight rowers should stack up:

Overweight - Hardly

High blood glucose levels - Fitness should help here

High triglyceride levels - Fitness should help here

High blood pressure - Fitness should help here

Low grip strength - Uh, all you do is grip an oar all day

Smoking - Good grief, I hope not

Not graduating from high school - Been there, done that

Being unmarried - Really? (Certain of you should ignore this one, and you know who you are)

Consuming three or more alcoholic drinks daily - Just as soon as you graduate... No wait! You're dry during the season!

Patagonia Targets Lightweight Rowers

Well, not just lightweights. I received an email from a Patagonia marketing rep who asked if I would mention the Patagonia Pro Sales Program. "This program enables qualified, competitive teams to purchase anything from Patagonia at a significant discount." It seems Patagonia has caught on to the fact that rowing involves "sweating; starting and stopping; overexertion; wind, rain, cold, hot, hypothermia and heat exhaustion" and decided it might fit with the products they sell.

I don't work for Patagonia, I receive no payments from Patagonia, and I have no financial interest in getting anyone to sign on to their program. They did, however, see fit to make a pitch to lightweights so I thought I'd pass it on.

The team web site is here.

The team application is here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Radcliffe Wins the Belly!

I don't mean wins the lightweight category, I mean wins the race. Yes, the heavyweight boats in this freshmen race are supposed to be evenly matched, but c'mon, this is a great result for the Black and White. The next fastest boat was the Princeton heavyweights who were 2 seconds back. Princeton, by the way, only had one heavy eight entered so I'd say this is the best they've got. The Princeton lights were the next lightweight boat, 43 seconds behind Radcliffe, with the Georgetown lights another 26 seconds back. Both Radcliffe and Georgetown entered B boats which finished a bit further back in the pack.

That Radcliffe boat must have been smoking. No doubt the freshmen provide a good training partner for the varsity. The key point here seems to be that Radcliffe can bring some of these freshmen into the mix for seat racing this spring, adding speed to the V8 while still keeping a fast freshman eight. Thinking of the Pittsburgh four, this makes me wonder what the average erg score is of the Radcliffe boat. Think it's faster than all of the heavyweights in that race?

Two crews have now thrown down markers this fall - the Princeton varsity and the Radcliffe freshmen. Now, when the snow starts to fall, they'll move inside and begin making or breaking their spring seasons.

Weekend Results

Penn State had a nice 24 second advantage (these are 2k races) over Philadelphia University in the light eight event at the Frostbite Regatta in Philadelphia. Lehigh took a close light four event over Fairfield, who was a second and a half behind. Fairfield was followed by Penn State, Lafayette, and Scranton. Lafayette was right on Lehigh at Navy Day, but quite a bit back at this one. Given that crews are really training for head races in the fall, throwing a sprint race in there isn't entirely fair. Once crews start to train for sprint races at higher stroke rates, things change. I still anticipate a nice rivalry race between Lehigh and Lafayette in the spring.

At the Head of the South Virginia Tech beat Georgia Tech handily, while Alabama was a no-show. Georgia won the light fours by 27 seconds over Alabama. Bama was followed by Virginia Tech, Georgia B, Jacksonville, Georgia State, and Berry College. Geogia State was much closer to Georgia at the Hooch, so the Dogs opened it up in Augusta.

At the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival Stanford lights finished fourth in the heavyweight event. This is a nice result for Stanford and suggests they are recovering from their rough outing at last season's IRAs. Cal was further back at 15th in the 21 boat race. Stanford and Cal also raced fours (Stanford 13th out of 21) and novice eights (Stanford 7th out of 20 and Cal 19th out of 20) in the heavyweight events. There was also a light eight event in which Cal State Long Beach beat Arizona.

Ohio State - Dayton results aren't available yet.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Boat Speed Increase at Worlds

The August issue of the Rowing Biomechanics Newsletter discussed the average annual growth in boat speed from 1993 to 2006. I was surprised to read that the speed of the lightweight women's 2x is increasing at the third slowest rate of the 14 Olympic boat classes. I'm surprised because some other statistics I've seen and discussed seemed to suggest that the LW2x should be increasing speed at a greater rate than other boats. This seemed to fit with the idea that as relative newcomers on the scene, lightweight women would be gaining speed faster than heavyweights who have been around a lot longer. It may have been that in the past I've looked at the LW2x's speed relative to the heavy W2x. In that case, because the speed of the W2x has actually been slowing over the period measured, the gap is closing quickly. The same thing is happening among the light men as the LM2x is increasing speed faster than the heavy M2x. In fact, the Newsletter projects that the 2008 speeds of the winning LM2x and M2x will be nearly identical. If this were to occur, it would no doubt be used to bolster the argument to do away with lightweights because if there is no difference in speed, why should there be a different category? I think this is a bit of a red herring though, because the LM2x contains 2 of the top 6 lightweights in the world, while the M2x contains 2 of the top 21 heavyweights in the world. Potentially, then, we could be comparing the top 2 lightweights to the number 20 and 21 heavyweights.

The Newsletter also shows graphs of times by boat. There are two distinct patterns among the graphs and the only explanation I can think of is that they are grouped by the day of the final so that conditions for each group are similar.

I'm not sure how useful this kind of statistic is given how conditions can affect times, but it will be interesting to see what the LW2x times look like in Beijing in 2008, particularly now that the Chinese are paying a lot of attention to rowing.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Racing This Weekend

We're coming to the end of the fall season, but there are still a few more races to go.

At the Head of the South in Augusta, Georgia Tech, Alabama, and Virginia Tech face off, while in the light four Berry, Georgia State, Jacksonville, Georgia (2 boats), Alabama, and Virginia Tech race. Virginia Tech has beaten Alabama at the Head of the Hooch in eights, while Georgia beat Georgia State by a mere 3 seconds at the Hooch. Should be good racing.

The Frostbite Regatta in Philadelphia has lightweight four and eight events with Scranton, Penn State, Lehigh, Fairfield and Lafayette meeting in fours and Philadelphia U. and Penn State racing in eights. When Lafayette raced Lehigh at the Navy Day Regatta, if the posted results are to be believed, the two fours rowed the same time. This should be a great rematch. Philadelphia is in the early days of its program so we'll probably see Penn State take the eights.

On the West Coast the Newport Autumn Rowing Festival doesn't have entries listed, but Stanford and Cal both raced last year. The Head of the Lagoon doesn't have entries listed either, but last year UCSD and NorCal raced light fours.

In a traditional race (although a recent tradition, I think), Dayton welcomes Ohio State to a dual race on Saturday.

On Sunday the freshman have at it at the Belly of the Carnegie. Georgetown Princeton, and Radcliffe will be there, praying for better weather than that for the Chase.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Knecht/Windermere Conflict

It appears that the Knecht Cup conflicts with the Windermere Classic this spring, as both are currently scheduled for April 14th. In the past we've seen some of the faster non-West Coast crews such as Radcliffe, Princeton, and Wisconsin race at Windermere and if they do so this year that will degrade the quality of the Knecht field. This later date is probably a better time for Windermere since the crews will have more water time in and will be closer to their end-of-season speed. When it was held earlier in the season, it was hard to draw any real conclusions from the results, although last year Radcliffe did sustain their top ranking after Windermere for quite some time. It's not clear who will race at Windermere, although Wisconsin has both Knecht and Windermere on their schedule and Princeton, Radcliffe, Stanford, and LMU raced there last year. If any two of Princeton, Wisconsin, or Radcliffe go to Winderemere over Knecht, I suspect the other will also go (I think we'll see at least these three in California).

Although it's still early and dates may change, I'm not entirely sorry to see the Knecht Cup broken up. While I think it was a good opportunity to get the best light eights racing each other before IRAs, I don't think the regatta understood what they had and therefore were unable to capitalize on it. The lightweight race was an elite event occurring in the midst of a Dad Vail level regatta. And I do mean the midst. The men's novice four final was later in the day than the light eight, for goodness sake. The downside is that some schools with fast lightweight boats and so-so heavyweight boats were more likely to race there because the whole team was making the trip. Windermere, on the other hand, can't be beat for atmoshpere and the excitement of a match race. Visiting crews are treated like royalty. Sometimes, when you are at the pinnacle of your sport, even rowing, it's nice to be treated with respect. Windermere does it, Knecht doesn't.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Alabama Lightweights

There was a nice blurb in The Crimson White about the Alabama women's crew's results at the Head of the Hooch. The lightweights figure prominently because they led the way. It would be great to see Alabama continue to develop lightweights now that they are varsity (last year their coach told me that he would like to do this). If they did, I could easily see them creating a Wisconsin type of program - big (in numbers) and fast. I think that this will be hard to do, however, because athletic directors want NCAA championships and the best lightweight crew in the country won't bring that to Alabama.

More Results

Fordham won the light four at the Grimaldi Cup, followed by Iona, Sacred Heart, and Manhattan.

Tulsa won the light four at the Wichita Frostbite over Wash U. and Oklahoma City.

At the Head of the Occoquan, Penn State beat Duquesne in the light eight event.

More Recognition for Wisconsin

A lot of big time football schools use football game TV timeouts to honor the achievements of sports other than football. The team typically runs out onto the field while their championship is announced, they give a quick wave, get a few pictures taken, and run back off. It's good PR for the team and good PR for the athletic department. Last Saturday it was the Wisconsin lightweight women's turn. (Please note, I didn't take this picture.) Further proof that Wisconsin does it right.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Race Results

UCF kicked it's season off with a win in the light eight at the Head of the Hooch. I thought Atlanta might give them a run for their money and they were second, 16 seconds back. Virginia Tech, Alabama, and Miami U. followed. This is a nice start for UCF although a good season last spring brings with it the burden of expectations and we would have expected nothing less here. In the light fours, Georgia pulled off a tight, 3 second win over Georgia State. Virginia Tech was third, followed by Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Clemson. There should be some fun racing between these two in-state rivals in the spring.

The Georgetown novice lightweights turned in a good result at the GW Novice scrimmage in Washington, finishing third behind the UVA and Georgetown heavyweight novices. They beat GW's top novice heavyweight boat, as well as the other B boats.

At The Green Monster, Frosh Invitational in Hanover, NH, the Radcliffe frosh lightweights turned in a dominating performance, winning the race ahead of the heavyweight frosh from Dartmouth, BU, MIT, UMass, Northeastern, and UVM. The MIT lightweight frosh also raced, finishing 7th, ahead of the top heavyweight frosh boats from UMass, Northeastern, and UVM. This may have been an event in which the heavyweights send out even boats, but these are impressive results nonetheless (the MIT lights look like they sent out even boats themselves since they finished 2 seconds apart; only one Radcliffe boat raced).

Lightweights in the News

There was a nice article in The Columbian about a pacific Lutheran lightweight rower. There were a couple of interesting points in this article. The first was that PLU practices at 4am! Classes must start awfully early at PLU (if this is correct). The second point is the discussion of cutting weight. The rower, Shayna Horracks, laughs about how hard it was for her to drop weight to 130 pounds, and says that her normal weight is 132. In fact, she cut to 126.6, probably as a result of the Head of the Charles practice of averaging. One hundred thirty two is a pretty normal weight for a lightweight rower (as well as a pretty normal weight for 5'7" woman), but no doubt she had a bit of a struggle to get to 126. I'm sure she had teammates closer to the 138 HOCR limit. This is why there is no averaging in collegiate events, because it makes everyone cut weight, even those athletes who are natural lightweights.

On another topic, a reader noted the story about the USC men adding lightweights to the program and wondered if the women will be next. This would be great if it happened, but I think it is not too likely. First of all there is the Football Theorem at work (average weight of the women's crew is proportional to the prominence of a school's football program), coupled with the natural reticence of women's varsity coaches to consider lightweights. The most interesting thing about the men's story is the attitude of the men's coach toward the lightweights. After saying that he is adding lightweights to increase the opportunities for students to row, he says that "a person can develop athletically quite dramatically from one year to the next. Someone who is a lightweight this year can turn into quite a decent heavyweight oarsman next year.” In addition, the lightweights are racing in the "sub-varsity" category, whatever that is. Doesn't quite sound like an unequivocal commitment to lightweights to me.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin continues to tout the achievements of its women's lightweights. A story in the Wisconsin State Journal discusses the high caliber of Wisconsin athletics, pointing to the lightweights as national champions and examples of athletic excellence. Wisconsin really does a great job of giving its lightweights recognition and setting them up as models for other Wisconsin teams to follow. (Of course, it helps when you've won three national championships in a row!)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Racing This Weekend - Head of the Hooch

There are other races this weekend but the biggest is the Head of the Hooch. The light eight has five entries including Alabama, Virginia Tech, Miami U., and UCF (Atlanta Rowing Club will also compete). This is effectively the fall debut of UCF as they race against other lightweight crews for the first time. They should dominate here although Atlanta can't be overlooked. The light four is loaded with 19 entries including, among others, Jacksonville University, Virginia Tech Crew, UGA Rowing Club, Alabama, UTC, Georgia State, Miami University, and Georgia Tech. The Hooch continues to be a premiere fall regatta for lightweight crews.

Typical Speculative Weight Story in Yale Daily News

A few weeks ago the Yale Daily News published a story entitled, Weight troubles athletes. This story is typical of the genre in that it discusses eating disorders among lightweight rowers (in this case men) without providing any statistics or even anecdotal evidence that this group of athletes experiences these disorders more frequently than the population at large. In fact, it fails to produce one member of the team with an eating disorder. One person quoted as an authority is a female heavyweight rower who claims to see male rowers who lose 30 pounds from summer to season. Obviously, that kind of rower is not a lightweight, but she offers no names and her claim isn't confirmed.

The weigh-in issue we've discussed here is touched upon by rowers, however, when the article states, "The 17 to 20 hours between weigh-in and a race give rowers a chance to hydrate and take in calories before the competition, team members said." Readers have pointed to this exact practice and have criticized these weigh-in rules saying that true lightweights should be capable of weighing-in just prior to a race without a loss of performance due to dehydration or lack of calories.

The usual three points to be made here:

- "Eating disorders" as defined in all studies I've seen with definitions is what a lay person would call "dieting." All college women do it.

- Whenever I've seen statistics for lightweight women rowers with "eating disorders" (using the expansive definition), the numbers show that they are no more likely to be affected than their peer group.

- Lightweight rowing should not be lumped with other allegedly "at-risk" sports because unlike those other sports, there is no incentive for rowers to drop to a weight below the minimum. In fact, rowers want to be as close as they can to the minimum because lower weight will mean a loss of power.

I get tired of reading these stories and I get tired of writing about these stories, but I don't feel it is proper to let them go unchallenged.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More on Rowing Well For Boat Speed

I came across a blog entry on Coach Thrasher that led me to a short analysis that provides some underpinning for the technique vs. erg discussion that the Pitt four's HOCR performance engendered. Of course, there are many factors that go into technique and no single factor is totally predictive, but this timing analysis provides one piece of the technique puzzle.

The charts relate to the oar pressure of rowers in a four. In "Coach Thrasher's" words, the underlying idea is that

"the force applied to the boat is the SUM of everyone rowing. If we can sum the peak-power for each rower at the same point in time, we'll get the MAXIMUM force applied to the water to move the boat forward the fastest. The higher this maximum force, the faster the boat will go, but the maximum force is the sum of everyone's efforts, so it's important to time it well. (Obviously there are many factors that contribute to boat speed as well, but this force-timing is really important in small boats.)"

"Note an important aspect of this: the boat will go faster by having the best timing, not by hammering the oar through the water! So a weaker crew with better timing will go faster than a stronger yet sloppy crew."

Now, take a look at the graphs. The difference is obvious, but at first may not seem terribly huge. We're told, however, that the better crew is going about 0.3 m/s faster, which works out to about 30 seconds over a 2000m course. Next, think about all the lightweight fours rowing over nearly 5000 meters at the HOCR. If Pitt's power application curve looked like that of the best crew in this analysis, and everyone else looked like the worst (not impossible), it would take a mighty strong crew to hammer the oar through the water hard enough to beat them.

This sort of thing can be difficult to see by the untrained observer, but that is why we have coaches and not personal trainers. As the Peach web site says, "A coach can identify these differences in terms of body movement, posture, sequencing of legs, trunk and arms during the drive etc."

There are a zillion other factors at play here, of course, and I have no idea if Pitt's advantage was power application timing. It may have been something else. For example, even within power application, the moment of maximum application is important too. The point is that seemingly small differences in technique and timing can make large differences in boat speed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Head of the Iowa and More

I was a bit slow on more results and a reader beat me to the Head of the Iowa:

Wisco lights won Gold medals in the Open Women's Pair and Light Four at the head of the Iowa. They finished 8th in the Open women's eight race. The Badgers actually had the 2nd and 3rd fastest times of the day in the pair, but penalties moved the 3rd fastest pair on the water into gold medal position. Badgers finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in the LW4+, but 2nd place crew was penalized and moved into third.
These sound like pretty good results to me. In the eight Wisconsin beat 22 heavyweight boats, including the top boats from Grand Valley, Kansas State, Drake, Marquette, and Creighton.

At the Head of the Tennessee, Dayton beat Virginia Tech by 13 seconds in the light eight (Atlanta scratched) and Georgia State handily beat Auburn, Virginia Tech, and UTC in the light four. Georgia State was 1:38 ahead of second place Auburn. Both Dayton and Georgia State were favored (by FITD anyway) in these races.

At the Head of the Fish Buffalo was just over a second faster than Fairfield in the light four. Fairfield was followed by UMass, Brandeis University, University of Vermont, and Buffalo B. It looks like a light eight race was scheduled but no times are given.

At the Speakmon Memorial Regatta Ohio State took the light four race easily (43 seconds) over a second place high school crew. Miami University and Wittenberg University were fourth and fifth.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Head of the American Results

Cal and Stanford raced in the Collegiate Eight event at the Head of the American today. Both boats finished in the second half of the pack of heavyweight boats, with Stanford finishing about a minute ahead of California. Stanford also raced a light four in an all heavyweight race, finishing 13th out of 17.

Princeton Chase Results

Reports from the Princeton Chase today described an extremely windy course with a dominant headwind for the last third that caused steering problems and collisions throughout the day. The fours were canceled along with the small boats.

It was a big day for Princeton as the Tigers finished 1 - 2 in the lightweight competition. The first Princeton boat finished over a minute ahead of third place Radcliffe while the second Princeton boat was 25 seconds ahead. Radcliffe, in turn, was 4 seconds ahead of Georgetown which was 23 seconds ahead of MIT. A third Princeton boat rounded out the lightweight field. Princeton must have some talent this year as it appears that the only boat capable of gaining on Princeton is, well, Princeton. The Princeton B boat was 49 seconds back from the A boat at the Head of the Potomac and has now moved to within 37 seconds. When these two crews mix and match in the spring the result has the potential to be extremely fast. To add a little more perspective, the Tiger A boat beat the Cornell, GW, BC, and Rutgers A heavyweights, while the Princeton B boat beat the Trinity, Villanova, and MIT A heavyweight boats. The top lightweight boat was a bit further back in the field this year than last, but given the wind we would expect that.

Another winner appears to be Georgetown. They closed the gap substantially on Radcliffe since Boston while moving ahead of MIT.

Although there is some racing left, the Chase closes the door on the fall races with the potential to tell us anything about the relative speed of lightweight crews. At this point we should look back at last year's Chase, keeping in mind the final spring results. Princeton also won last year (Wisconsin did not compete in either 2005 or 2006) and also beat Radcliffe by about a minute (52 seconds). Georgetown was second last year, 9 seconds ahead of Radcliffe. (Recently, Radcliffe seems to have had some problems with this race.) Princeton beat quite a few heavyweight A boats last year as well (although this year there was a lightweight killer wind).

So what does all of this tell us? I think it mostly tells us who to measure spring progress against. This spring that initial measuring stick will pretty clearly be Princeton. On the other hand, last spring the measuring stick was Wisconsin, yet we know that Wisconsin typically starts slow and they stayed true to form as Radcliffe and Princeton beat the Badgers at Knecht. Mostly what it tells us is that the fall and spring seasons are very different. Crews that excel rowing 5000 meters at a controlled 30 spm, can turn into screaming banshees, unable to control slides or match catches, in the heat of a sprint race while rowing a 36 or 38. Head races are rowed at that Goldilocks pace in which the boat is going fast enough to set it and keep the oars off the water, but not so high and hard that you think you can't go on after the first 30 strokes. Nonetheless, before you can row well high and hard, you have to row Goldilocks well.