British rowing reaps the rewards of London Olympics

14/06/2013 - 17:43:00

The evidence is clear. Rowing received a huge boost in interest in Great Britain following the London 2012 Olympic Games.

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With the Samsung World Rowing Cup II being staged at the London Olympic regatta course in Eton Dorney later this month, the interest is surely going to continue on this upward trend.
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After the Olympics, in a space of less than three months, 33,000 people in Great Britain did a Google search for local rowing clubs and 32,000 people signed up for learn to row classes.

GB Rowing’s performance director, David Tanner, says that on the high performance side there has been a big increase in interest.
“There is a good feeling about the benefit of the Olympics,” says Tanner. “There’s no question when I connect with juniors etc that there’s been a huge impact and the TV coverage has been massive. For example in my job, people now know exactly what I do.”

Tanner points to the impact of television coverage. “In the second week of the Games, we put the women’s pair on TV on a BBC programme with the talent ID coaches. This hit 6 million people and our website (britishrowing.org) crashed.”
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“We ran four recruitment weekends in September (2012) and had 1,000 people sign up. We tested 300 of them,” he continues.

Tanner notes that the appeal of rowing has changed. “It was an interesting mix. Normally the ratio of men to women is 4 to 1. This time it was 4 to 3. This is a dramatic difference and is clearly from the success of the women (at the Olympics).”

Three British women’s crews won Olympic gold – the women’s pair, double sculls and lightweight double sculls and the women’s pair was not only the first time British women’s rowing had won an Olympic gold, it was also the first Olympic gold medal for Great Britain at the London Olympics.

“All of these boats inspired women. Katherine Grainger’s story was seen like the Steve Redgrave story. The lightweight women’s double showed people that smaller women were able to row. I don’t think anyone noticed the lightweights before,” says Tanner.
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At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the British rowing team was similarly successful winning six medals, but Tanner says the impact on rowing in Britain after Beijing was not the same, explaining that “London was quite different. It was partly the success of the GB team as a whole (nine medals in total) and also the women’s side because it was the first ever gold medal for women.”

Tanner says the impact is a lasting one. “It’s completely remarkably. You can now have a conversation with your neighbour about rowing. And for a period of time rowing got in the media ahead of football!”

There has also been an increase in rowing participation outside of the high performance area with clubs across the nation reporting a growth in interest. In Slough, just near the Eton Olympic regatta venue, there are plans to build a rowing and canoeing centre solely for recreational use as interested groups make the most of the post-Olympic awareness. At Gloucester Rowing Club, the club of Olympians Beth Rodford and Natasha Page, the number in learn to row classes doubled and club membership is up 43 per cent.
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Eight years ago, when the World Rowing Cup was last held at Eton Dorney, ticket sales were slow. This time, for the 2013 Samsung World Rowing Cup II, 2,000 tickets sold in the first 24 hours.

The ‘Dorney Roar’ will be heard again from 21 – 23 June, 2013.

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