Rowing is a burgeoning sport for women that offers competition in two weight classifications: lightweight and heavyweight/openweight. The rules governing weight restrictions and weigh-in procedures vary and are set by regulating bodies that oversee international, national, intercollegiate and age-group competitions. The term "heavyweight" is used only in association with male rowers. The equivalent classification in women's rowing is "openweight." There are no weight restrictions in heavyweight and openweight rowing.
International competitions, such as the World Championships and Olympics, are governed by the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Aviron, better known as FISA. FISA's rules dictate that the average weight of lightweight rowers in multiathlete boats -- such as the pair, the quadruple sculls and the eight with coxswain -- cannot exceed 154 pounds for men and 125 pounds for women. Furthermore, no individual male lightweight can exceed 159 pounds, and no female lightweight can exceed 130 pounds. FISA also sets minimum weights for coxswains: 121 pounds for males, 110 pounds for females. USRowing, America's governing body, simply dictates that male lightweights cannot exceed 160 pounds and female lightweights cannot exceed 130 pounds.
Male heavyweight rowing has been an Olympic sport since the inception of the modern Olympics in 1896. Women's openweight rowing became an Olympic sport 80 years later at the 1976 Montreal Games. Lightweights gained international stature in 1974, when FISA added men's lightweight events to the World Championships "to encourage more universality in the sport especially among nations with less statuesque people." FISA included women's lightweight events at the World Championships for the first time in 1985. Eleven years later, three lightweight events gained Olympic inclusion at the 1996 Atlanta Games: the men's coxless four, the men's double sculls, and the women's double sculls.
U.S. Collegiate Competition
Intercollegiate rowing is the feeder system for the U.S. National Team. Women's intercollegiate openweight rowing is governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and crowns its champions annually at the NCAA Championship Regatta. Men's intercollegiate heavyweight and lightweight crews, as well as women's intercollegiate lightweight crews, compete for their national championships under the auspices of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association at the IRA Championship Regatta. Male and female rowers who compete at the collegiate club level generally consider the Dad Vail Regatta or the American Collegiate Rowing Association Regatta to be their championship event in all weight classifications.
Weigh-in procedures for lightweights place a premium on the health and safety of the athletes. For years, FISA's Sports Medicine Commission has advised lightweight rowers about the dangers of dehydration and severe dietary restriction to achieve weight loss. Dangerous practices include rapid dehydration through the use of saunas, diuretics and occlusive clothing. Using diuretics to dehydrate, then rehydrating intravenously, is a practice banned by FISA and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The standard weigh-in protocol for collegiate lightweight women was developed by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association and is used at the IRA National Championships. Under this protocol, rowers are weighed the day before a race, wearing full race attire. Athletes who weigh more than 2 pounds above the 130-pound maximum are disqualified; athletes who are no more than 2 pounds above the maximum may weigh in twice more within an hour to make weight or be disqualified.
- Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association: Lightweight Weigh-In Procedure
- Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club: Lightweight Rowing
- Weight Loss by Lightweight Rowers and Coxswains; FISA Medical Commission
Robert Davé is a licensed clinical psychologist, consultant and educator. He has served on the faculties of two universities, published research in the "Journal of Abnormal Psychology" and run a multifaceted private practice for more than 30 years. Davé holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Michigan State University.