The indoor rowing difference? Over three days of competition, from 13-15 September, in Budapest’s urban setting, eight selected men and eight selected women indoor rowers faced six challenges all on the indoor rowing machine. There was no standard 2000m piece among the challenges. Instead, these challenges were varied and diverse.

At the end of the challenges Olena Buryak of Ukraine was declared the best of the women with Josh Penrice of Great Britain the top man.

Day 2, 2019 World Urban Games, Budapest, Hungary © Ben Chattell / World Rowing


Challenge One was chosen by the public through World Rowing’s Instagram poll with the public selecting a 6k race using 14 strokes per minute or less. Buryak kept her average at sub 2:00 minute splits per 500m. Penrice led the men’s race from the start. Athletes were penalised heavily for going above the stroke rate with Jason Marshall of Canada able to take advantage and move through the field and into second behind Penrice as others accumulated penalties.

“I just came away with a win the first challenge of the World Urban Games which is really exciting,” said Penrice afterwards. “The 6k felt horrible at the time but I feel great now.”

Challenge Two had athletes taking ten strokes to produce the maximum wattage possible. For the men, Vaclav Zitta of the Czech Republic set the early maximum watts at 1167 watts. On Penrice’s second run he managed 1301W (a split of 1:04.6 per 500m). This won Penrice the challenge. For the women Buryak managed to overtake Vwaire Obukohwo of Great Britain at the end to place first with 886 watts.

Challenge Three was a sprint pyramid with competitors facing off in a knock-out against one another where the distance began at 200m, increased to 500m and finished at 800m. Marshall and Penrice faced off in the final 800m for the men. Marshall, a former representative rugby player, won. For the women Buryak beat Anna Muehle of Germany.

The fourth challenge was an elimination race. Held over 35 minutes, the metres that each athlete had accumulated after each five-minute segment saw the athlete with the least metres recorded being eliminated. The timer was reset after every five-minute segment. In the penultimate segment for the women, Muehle, Buryak and Marloes Oldenburg of the Netherlands were left. With one minute to go Muehle bowed out which let Buryak and Oldenburg catch their breath. Oldenburg attacked first, but Buryak was too strong and overtook at the halfway point. The men’s challenge finished with Liang Zhang of China and Marshall going into the final five minutes against each other. Marshall could not keep up with Zhang who won the challenge.

“It was a great atmosphere and was good to see not only brute strength on the erg, but seeing the athletes having to think really tactically about their pace and timing due to the threat of elimination,” described World Rowing events manager Matt Evans.

Day 2, 2019 World Urban Games, Budapest, Hungary © Ben Chattell / World Rowing


Challenge Five was a team relay race consisting of two men and two women on one machine. Each team member rowed 250m before transitioning to the next team member continuing until the team reached 10 000m. Team A (Ivan Saric (GER), Obukohwo, Bo Wullings (NED) and Rebecca Smith (AUS)) started out strong and maintained a good rhythm. Team D, however, (Penrice, Buryak, Zitta and Jing Sun (CHN)) stayed in striking distance and made their move at 5000m where they overtook Team A. Team D continued to grow with confidence and increase the gap until the 10k end. Team D finished with a commanding lead and a 1:27.4 per 500m average split.

The final challenge, Challenge Six was a blind race where competitors had to row for six minutes with their monitor covered for everything apart from the time. Athletes had to rely on audience feedback and adjust their speed accordingly. Different tactics occurred with some athletes waiting for the final sprint or simply pacing to try and maintain their position. In the end Penrice and Buryak were the winners. They kept their overall lead and therefore won the World Urban Games.

“It was a great event,” said Evans, “a fantastic test of an innovative competition format for indoor rowing and an opportunity for people to compete from all areas of the rowing community (traditional water rowers, against gym/indoor rowers).”

The second edition of the World Urban Games is planned for 2021 and will potentially remain in Budapest. For indoor rowing the aim is to be part of the Games again, but this time as an Urban Games competition sport.

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