Just what the sport of rowing will look like in another century and a quarter, however, is something we can only guess at. Here are four fanciful (possibly impossible) ideas of how rowers of the future might practice the sport 125 years from now amidst the realities of climate change, technological advances and shifting populations.

1. Racing around the North Pole

By the time global sea-levels peak in the year 2100, many of the traditional sites of flat-water rowing (those that haven’t sunk beneath the ocean) will have become thriving coastal rowing communities, with waterways the primary mode of transportation. The sport has become so popular it merits inclusion in the Olympics and Paralympics starting as early as 2076 in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

Svalbard 2076 is the first Games within the Arctic Circle, but by 2142 the sea-ice has gone and the 250th anniversary of World Rowing would be marked in style with an epic race around the North Pole. Using the traditional coastal boats of the previous century are used in this race with excitement enhanced by competing through a bustling transportation zone.

2. Virtual rowing

Now going south, an elite coach of the year 2042 walks into her home office and debriefs her athletes after a successful World Championships. Looking around the room, she makes eye contact with each of her 24 rowers – her gaze is met by 24 World Champions, each beaming back as if they were there in person, eager for feedback and some hint at what they could expect in the next year of training.

Separated by oceans, mountains, deserts and – for two of them – the vastness of outer space, none has physically travelled more than a few steps to compete in their Concept X ergo-pods. Once ‘plugged in’ with virtual contact lenses in place, they become a team as though they are in the room together. Language differences are not a problem as a single computer chip behind their ears translates instantly any language.

3. Powering life

Rowing, it turns out, is a big part of the solution to two of humanity’s greatest crises. By the mid-21st century, it is no longer true that traditional energy stores are running out. They had in fact run out. Not only has demand increased by global population growth, but increase in sedentary lifestyles and the associated chronic health problems (identified as early as the 1990s) are a reality. The solution to both of these problems is solved by rowers. The solution is to harness physical activity to combat health problems and use this activity to store up energy not just from indoor rowing machines, but every human movement. This is all collected in a mobile battery cell for future power consumption.

Rowing has proved to be an ideal activity with its demanding physicality. This means that many have taken up the sport because of the relative efficiency it offers in generating power in a short time. Of course, the more someone rows, the more power they store up and not only are they fitter and healthier, but they lead more balanced lives.  

4. Under 40 World Championships

When World Rowing turned 125 in 2017, rowers were already getting older. By 2092, the average age of Olympic Champions has risen even further as elite athletes across all sports push the age of retirement well past 40 and 50 into what was once considered ‘old age’. Twenty and thirty-year-olds are no longer able to compete at the same level as athletes with twice the experience and far more advanced technical abilities.

To address these new realities, rowing introduces the World Rowing Under 40 World Championships. This developmental event quickly becomes an established stepping stone for up and coming elite athletes and becomes especially important for the increasing number of competitively minded people entering the sport of rowing in their 30s or later.

By this time, to enter a masters regatta, the youngest age has become 47 with new categories being formed for including those for the 120-125-year olds.

Back to reality…

While these ideas may be far-fetched, the real future of our sport is something World Rowing is looking forward to being part of. Here’s to the next 125 years!