Online erg racing

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, China imposed a lockdown in late January. The Chinese rowing community looked into alternative ways of racing.

Initiated by Pascal Frieh, a French man who has lived in Shanghai for many years, Chinese rowers started to organise online racing via the RowPro application. The group, using a WeChat group called Online Erging, spread quickly among the local rowing community. Within a few weeks, around 100 people had joined the group while another similar group with 60+ people was built by Shanghai Dianshanhu Boat Club.

During the peak period of the COVID-19 pandemic in China, the amateur RowPro online races were organised on a day-by-day basis and some rowers out of China (from Australia and Great Britain) joined this active group as well.

Charity erg relay

The Chinese Rowing Association (CRA) also decided to do something for those fighting against the coronavirus on the front line.

On 23 February, the CRA organised a 24-hour Online Rowing Charity Relay. This was live-streamed on live.qq.com. Over 24 hours, 100 rowers from different locations over China participated in this relay and each of them rowed for 2020 metres on the erg. The participants, including high school students, Beijing 2008 Olympic gold medallist Ziwei Jin, CRA senior staff, national team rowers, a host from CCTV Sports, aviators and masters rowers all joined in.

By the end of the event, the viewers reached 1.28 million. After the event, CRA used the raised funds to provide a rowing ergometer to the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital.

Two new world record holders

Rowers in China have now started to resume their on-water activities and the WeChat group “Online Erging” has changed its name as “On Off line Erging” and it appears that the indoor rowing boom continues to grow.  

Then in early June the CRA organised the 2020 China Indoor Rowing Extreme Challenge. This event was combined with the Men’s Marathon Challenge, Women’s Half Marathon Challenge and 2000m Erg National Team Selection Trials. This was the first sports event since the COVID-19 outbreak in China and it attracted massive attention. It was considered as the signal of the recovery of the Chinese sports industry. CCTV5, China’s national sports TV channel, deployed an ultra-high-definition OB Van for the live-broadcast and Zhongwen Gou, the director of the General Administration of Sport of China, attended.

Almost all the rowers from the national team competed in the selection trialsn of 2000m racing.  Some big names like Zhiyu Liu (2019 World Champion in the men’s double sculls), Yuwei Wang (2019 World Rowing Cup I gold medallist) and Wenyi Huang (two-time Olympic medallist) were among the top three in their categories respectively.

Four e top rowers competed on women’s half marathon. Kaifeng Huang won finishing in a time of 1:18:03.4 for   21,097m. This was faster than the World Record of 1:18:56 set by Aifric Keogh. Huang now has the new record in the women's 19-29 half-marathon.

The event was highlighted by Liang Zhang who was aiming to break the world record in the men’s 30-39 slide marathon. Zhang competed in indoor rowing at the 2019 World Urban Games and there were high expectations over his performance.

And 2:19:20.8 was the answer given by Zhang. Zhang not only significantly improved on the original world record (Robert Hines, 2:51:01.5), but also exceeded the marathon records for any age group, with or without slides.

“I never expected that I could row so fast like this,” Zhang said after the challenge,” I am so proud of this result which also proves the effectiveness of our winter training.” Aijie Liu, the president of CRA commented: “Liang’s breakthrough has broken the stereotype about Chinese athletes regarding stamina and stress, he set a very inspiring example for younger athletes.”

What next

Currently most rowers in China have resumed their on-water rowing, but the online rowing group is still active and more indoor events will be initiated by CRA. On 20 June, CRA will launch an international online indoor rowing marathon challenge. Three days after that, another nationwide indoor rowing event will kick-off.