1936       Five Games in a row – The Boys in the Boat” and Jack Beresford make history

The epic story of the University of Washington (USA) crew’s rise from obscurity to Olympic Champions at the Berlin 1936 Games is well known thanks to Daniel Brown’s best-selling book “The Boys in the Boat”. The image of the United States’ men’s eight crossing the line – Italian and German crews less than a second behind – is rightly one of the defining moments of those Games. The win also set the USA apart as the only nation to claim Olympic Gold in the same event five Games in a row. While the American record would eventually stretch to eight Games, it took another 80 years before the five-in-a-row mark was matched with Great Britain’s fifth consecutive victory in the men’s fours in Rio 2016.

The Washington eight were famously first-time Olympians, while Great Britain’s Jack Beresford was an experienced rower. Having raced his first Games in Antwerp 1920, Beresford would compete in almost every boat class over two decades: Paris 1924, Amsterdam 1928, Los Angeles 1932, Berlin 1936. He was a favourite to medal again in 1940, but the outbreak of war meant no Olympics until 1948. His record of five Games with a medal for each (3 gold, 2 silver), was unmatched until Steve Redgrave’s incredible six medals in five Games (5 gold, 1 bronze), over half a century later.

Interview with author Daniel Brown here.

1954       A first step and a clean sweep – USSR domination at FISA’s first Women’s European Rowing Championships

The first Women’s European Rowing Championships (then the de facto World Rowing Championships) was an eye-opener for western rowing nations as powerful Soviet crews captured gold after gold, topping the podium in all of the five boat classes. This was a stunning lesson in the ability of female rowers not just to race, but to push just as tenaciously as men towards the goal of becoming the best in the world.

Female rowers around the world consequently asked, ‘why not me?’ While it had taken over half a century to become reality, women were now officially part of FISA. The pace to full equality continued gaining momentum through each subsequent decade and has led to the most recent milestone in 2017: female elite rowers will for the first time race in the same number of boat classes as their male counterparts at all future the World Rowing Championships and Olympic Regattas.

More on women in rowing here.

1981       Playing fair – FISA takes a lead on anti-doping

In 1981, FISA took a strong stand against doping, becoming the first international sports federation to introduce out-of-competition testing of athletes. This major step in the fight against performance enhancing drug use in sport was subsequently adopted by other federations. FISA continued to develop some of the toughest sanctions in the world for doping violations including a lifetime ban for the first instance of a positive test for a banned substance.

FISA’s fight against doping here.

2008 Paralympic Rowing Regatta - Day 2 © FISA

2002       Parallel course – Para-rowing’s international debut

At the 2002 World Rowing Championships in Seville, Spain, para-rowing made its international debut. Embedded within the World Rowing Championships, the first ‘Adaptive World Rowing Championships’ saw seven nations (AUS, ESP, GER, GRE, NED, POR, USA) race in two mixed events: PR3Mix4+ (formerly LTAMix4+) and PR2Mix1x (formerly TAMix1x). While Australia won gold in the four, American scullers Scott Brown and Angela Madsen finished first and second in the mixed singles final, taking home honours and kicking off what would be a world-beating partnership in the PR2Mix2x (formerly TAMix2x) at each of the subsequent four World Rowing Championships.

FISA’s goals for para-rowing were ambitious, with this the first step towards the sport’s inclusion in the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. Strict requirements for globally significant participation at the elite level and a tight deadline imposed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) meant that para-rowing had to grow, and fast. Thanks to the incredible efforts of nations, clubs, coaches and most especially para-rowers, the sport continued to grow in numbers and competitiveness. In 2005 those efforts were rewarded and para-rowing was officially added to the Paralympic programme.

History of para-rowing here.

2016       Never say never – Karsten’s 7th Olympic Games

Ekaterina Karsten, already a living legend with 5 Olympic medals (2 gold) and 16 World Rowing Championship medals (6 gold), added yet more distinction to her decades-long career. Not only was Rio 2016 her seventh Olympic appearance (more than any rower except for Canadian coxswain Leslie Thompson’s eight Games), at age 44, Karsten also became the oldest rower on record (excluding coxswains) to race at an Olympic Games.

Karsten remains in a league of her own and has announced her intention to push popular perceptions of elite performance even further by setting her sights on Tokyo 2020, where she will be 48. The lasting legacy of Karsten’s age-defying run continues to prove that no rules are set in stone when it comes to how long an athlete can compete for and even contending for the podium.

Ekaterina Karsten in her own words here.

Other incredible World Rowing statistics here.