Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rowing Gymnasts

While looking through some of last season's race pictures, I was reminded of one of the key signs that a boat isn't going as fast as it could - the rowing gymnast. The rowing gymnast contorts her body each stroke as if she's begging for the intervention of an exorcist. Gymnasts and "the face" usually go hand-in-hand. The face is seen when a rower grits her teeth, sticks out her tongue, or otherwise grimaces mightily, all of which is frequently accompanied by a tossing of the head usually seen on rodeo bulls.

Nine times out of ten these rowers are in the boat because they have the best erg score on the team. A score so good that a coach thinks she has to put up with that flailing body to get the power inside of it. The power has to outweigh the lack of technique, right? Not necessarily. There are plenty of examples every year where the biggest erg is not in the V8. Just as there are plenty of examples where lightweight boats beat heavyweight boats with bigger ergs. You never know until you seat race. The disruption to a crew caused by a flailing body can be serious and can easily outweigh a ten second faster erg score. On top of that, the rower is wasting energy. Every unnecessary movement wastes energy that could be better used on the oar. The same thing with faces. Even a silly face on a steady head wastes energy. It may feel better to think that your gritting teeth show the world just how hard you're pulling, but it just shows the world you could be pulling harder. As a lightweight, every loss in efficiency is big.

The goal in rowing is to have everyone rowing the proper technique exactly the same way at exactly the same time. A mediocre boat rowing together will beat a good boat rowing separately. Look at winning boats and then look at the rest. You'll see where the rowing gymnasts are.

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