The year began with a stunning performance by Olena Buryak of Ukraine. At February’s European Indoor Rowing Championships she established a new World Record for women over the standard 2000m distance. It was a remarkable performance as she smashed the ten-year-old World Record, not by the mere 0.2 second margin that had in 2005 allowed France’s Sophie Balmary to sneak ahead of New Zealand’s Georgina Evers-Swindell to claim the previous record, but by a stunning 3.4 seconds ahead of Balmary’s time.

Ergometer records continued to be set across a range of distances and age groups. Sofia Asoumanaki of Greece set a stunning record for 17-18 year old females by going 6:30 earlier this year - taking three seconds off the previous record.  Although not setting a new record, two men were added to the exclusive sub-5:40 club this year - Joshua Dunkley-Smith of Australia and Conlin McCabe of Canada. More than 20 indoor rowing World Records have been broken since the start of 2015 (some of these twice within a few weeks).

The tracking of indoor rowing World Records is done by Concept2, the world’s largest manufacterer of rowing ergometers. They maintain a database of ergometer records, especially that of the 2000m distance which became the standard in 1996.

Concept2 lays out their criteria for a World Record on their website, specifying gender, age and weight categories, para-rowing (referred to as adaptive) classifications, and rules for proper verification of the results.

Using the Concept2 World Record data for lightweight and open weight men and women in 15 different age classes (17-19 years old through to 100+) as well as the 1000m ergometers for men and women in the seven para-rowing classifications, the results show that 2015 has indeed been a special year. 

Graph 1: More indoor rowing world records were set in 2015 than in any year previous © FISA

There are several reasons for this increase in World Record performances. Firstly, there is a growing number of participants in indoor rowing competitions and these are across all age groups. Eight of the new World Records this year were set in the age classes for participants above 60 years.

There were only three new records set in the age classes below 50 years old. These included Buryak (6:25.0), Asoumanaki (6:30.2) and Spain’s Jesús González (6:16.2) in the 40-49 lightweight men’s class.

Graph 2: Tracking para-rowing World Records is quite recent and there are performance improvements in many classifications since 2009 © FISA

Proportionally to the number of events available, para-rowers are breaking records at a breathtaking pace. These results contrubute to the overall number of records. Some events, however, most notably the LTA-VI (Legs-Trunk-Arms Visual Impairment) and the LTA­-ID (Legs-Trunk-Arms Intellecutal Disability) classifications, have not seen any change. Para-rowing is still a relatively new discipline within rowing and will thus see a continued improvement overall in indoor times.

Looking at all classes together, between 2005 and 2015 there has been an increase in speed, measured in average power output (watts), in 2000m events. This is especially evident among older age groups (Graph 3). 

Graph 3: Changes in power output for World Record 2000m ergometer races between 2005 and 2015 © FISA

The indoor rowing season is now under way with Asoumanaki hoping to set a new record at the Hellenic Indoor Rowing Championships on 5 December 2015. Then the British and Dutch Indoor Rowing Championships take place the following weekend. Will we see more new records?