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The History of Rowing in the UK – Part 1

The Doggett’s Coat and Badge

Rowing a craft to navigate across water has been with us since we first learned how to float on top of the water, but as a sport rowing took a little longer to develop. It is however a sport that is centuries old rather than thousands of years old, and the UK was one of the first developers of rowing as a sporting activity. Rowing, like many traditional sports has declined in popularity over the last fifty years due to the popularity of other newer sports such as basketball, and of course computer games. But rowing in the UK has some very interesting facts that helped the leisure activity develop into a sport.

The First Modern Races

The term modern rowing was coined when boatmen offered taxis and ferry services across the Thames in London. Gradually these taxi boatmen began to challenge each other to see who could row the fastest across the great river and prize money was put up by the London Guilds to encourage the races and to develop it as a spectator sport.

The Coxed Eight

The term an eight in rowing refers to a rowing boat that is propelled by eight rowers and has a coxswain in the stern that steers it. Not only is the cox responsible for directing where the boat is going, he is also there to dictate the rhythm and pace of the rowers which in turn determines how fast the craft goes.

Paralympic Rowing

Rowing is perfectly suited to those people that have disabilities, but as an Olympic sport it was only introduced fairly recently. It was the 2008 Olympics in Beijing that both male and female athletes were allowed to compete at the Paralympics. There were four classes of boat races, all taking part on the thousand meter course. The biggest difference between the Paralympics and standard Olympic rowing is that the boat is classed as adaptive rowing. This means that the craft has been adapted around the rower and is technically changed so that the rower can compete fairly.

Rowing for All

Rowing as an event was supposed to have been introduced in the Summer Olympics in 1896, however inclement weather stopped the inaugural event. So, it was four years later that rowing first became an Olympic sport. However, it was not until the Montreal Olympics in 1976, that women were allowed to compete. Of course, during all this time rowing was an established amateur sport, and non-professionals often competed in races all over the UK in local regattas and non-professional races.

The Doggett’s Coat and Badge

The oldest rowing event in the world first took place in 1715, and once again it took place on the River Thames in London. It was called The Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race, where rowers would compete against each other between Chelsea Harbor and London Bridge. Reports of the periodicals of the time described vast crowds of spectators lining both banks of the Thames to witness this thrilling race. In part two of the history of British rowing we learn even more strange facts about how the sport developed on the waters of Britain.