The women’s single sculls, a lonely boat to row and a real test of mental and physical strength, was first contested at the Olympic Games in 1976, in Montreal, Canada, where East Germany took home the Olympic gold medal. But it is now Romania who is on top of the medals table, having won gold medals in 1980, 1984, and 1992. Its last Olympic gold medal in this boat class was claimed by the now legendary Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc, who by the time she retired after the 2004 Olympic Games had five Olympic gold medals to her name.
But in more recent years, it is the three women on the Sydney podium who dominated the Olympic and World Championship women’s single sculls podium.

The enduring might of Ekaterina Karsten in the single sculls places Belarus in second place in the historical Olympic medal table, with two gold medals. Karsten won her first Olympic gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta, USA, and her second Olympic victory was scored in the legendary race of 2000, in Sydney, Australia. In a career spanning over 20 years, Karsten, if not receiving a gold medal, has never been far from the top spot. She also has one Olympic bronze medal and an Olympic silver medal in the single (not counting the Olympic bronze she also won in the women’s quad in 1992). Adding to this six World Rowing Championship titles and a Junior World Championship gold medal, Karsten truly is one of the most decorated and long-lasting rowers in our sport. At 40 years old, questions of retirement are rife, yet the Belarusian has stated this year that continuing on to the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 is certainly not out of the question.

Bulgaria are hot on the toes of Belarus in the women’s single sculls all-time Olympic medal table, with one gold medal, one silver and two bronzes. Three of those medals were won by Rumyana Neykova. Neykova, winning silver in Sydney and bronze in Athens, Greece, in 2004, was always on the hunt for Olympic gold. She experienced this moment in 2008, winning the final by just over half a second ahead of USA’s Michelle Guerette. Karsten had to be content with bronze, a further second behind. Neykova, who made her international rowing debut in 1990, and was World Rowing Junior Champion in 1991 in the single sculls, is also a double World Champion. She retired in 2009.


Katrin Rutschow of Germany is another name synonymous with the women’s single sculls. At the 2004 Olympic Games regatta in Athens, Greece, she won the final by clean water, blowing rivals Karsten and Neykova, four and five seconds behind respectively, out of the water. Rutschow was never far from the podium in other years, winning Olympic bronze in 2000 in Sydney, and winning World Championship gold in 2001 as well as three silver and one bronze world medals in this boat class. Before launching her career the single, Rutschow had become an Olympic Champion and multiple World Champion in the women’s quadruple sculls.

After 2004, though Neykova and Karsten would still dominate the Olympic medal podium in 2008, and Karsten would win the 2005, 2006 and 2007 World Rowing Championships, new names began to emerge, demonstrating that the width and depth of female sculling was increasing.

Michelle Guerette, collecting two World Championship bronze medals in 2005 and 2007, won an Olympic silver medal in 2008 – undoubtedly the highlight of her career.

Mirka Knapkova, a name very prevalent in single sculling today also demonstrated she is a force to be reckoned with, winning two World Championship silver medals before finishing fifth in Beijing. After years of just missing out on the top spot, Mirka Knapkova won the 2011 World Rowing Championships on Lake Bled, in Slovenia, and has had a solid start to the 2012 season, winning both a silver and a bronze medal in the Samsung World Rowing Cup series.

In 2006, Frida Svensson of Sweden won her first World Championship medal in the single, a bronze. In 2010, Svensson went on to win the World Rowing Championships on Lake Karapiro, in New Zealand but could only manage fifth in 2011. Despite pulling out of the second stage of the Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, perhaps her best is yet to come this year.


Xiuyun Zhang, winner of the women’s single sculls at both initial stages of the 2012 Samsung World Rowing Cup, won a gold medal in her international debut, at the 1993 World Rowing Championships in Racice, Czech Republic, in the women’s quadruple sculls, and also has an Olympic silver medal in the women’s double sculls from the 1996 Olympic Games. Beginning a stint in the  women’s single sculls in 1998, Zhang definitely transferred over to the single in the early 2000s and won several international medals over the past decade, but seems to be coming in to pretty dominating form this year. Could she be a current favourite for Olympic gold?

New Zealand, an exceptionally strong rowing nation, is represented in the women’s single sculls by Emma Twigg. Twigg won bronze at the 2010 and 2011 World Rowing Championships, and gold at the 2011 Samsung World Rowing Cup in Lucerne. Twigg has had a quieter start to the 2012 season, placing fifth in the Lucerne final, but more racing experience this year in the lead up to the Olympic Games at the Eton Dorney venue will be of benefit.

Outside chances for a stab at the podium come from Natalia Mustafayeva of Azerbaijan and Julia Levina of Russia. Levina has been racing in the single for over ten years, picking up a silver medal at the 2001 World Rowing Championships. Since 2008, she has been a regular finalist, but contesting for minor placings. Mustafayeva won the B-final last year at the 2011 World Rowing Championships, and has had a promising start to 2012, winning a bronze medal at the first Samsung World Rowing Cup in Belgrade, edging 2010 World Champion Svensson out of the medals, and finishing fourth in Lucerne.

So who will be crowned fastest woman on the water at the 2012 Olympic Rowing Regatta? Karsten, a threatening presence in the women’s single sculls field, has yet to make her international debut this year and will race in Munich in one week’s time, where her current form will become clear. Can Zhang win China’s first ever gold medal in the women’s single sculls? Will Twigg and Svensson find some more speed to threaten for a medal? Or will Knapkova come out triumphant as she did at the 2011 World Rowing Championships?

One thing’s for sure, racing will be close and exciting.

Women's Single Sculls – Overall Olympic Medals Table

Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze Total First medal Last medal
1 Romania 3 0 0 3 1980 1992
2 Belarus 2 1 1 4 1996 2008
3 East Germany 2 0 1 3 1976 1988
4 Bulgaria 1 1 2 4 1988 2008
5 Germany 1 0 1 2 2000 2004
6 United States 0 4 0 4 1976 2008
=7 Belgium 0 1 1 2 1984 1992
=7 Canada 0 1 1 2 1992 1996
=7 Soviet Union 0 1 1 2 1976 1980
10 Denmark 0 0 1 1 1996 1996
  TOTAL 9 9 9 27