This study quantified changes in training volume, organization, and physical capacity among Norwegian rowers winning international medals between 1970 and 2001. Twenty-eight athletes were identified (27 alive). Results of physiological testing and performance history were available for all athletes. Twenty-one of 27 athletes responded to a detailed questionnaire regarding their training during their internationally competitive years. Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) increased 12% (6.5+/- 0.4 vs. 5.8+/-0.2 L min(-1)) from the 1970s to the 1990s. Similarly, 6-min ergometer rowing performance increased almost 10%. Three major changes in training characteristics were identified: (1) training at a low blood lactate (< 2 mM) increased from 30 to 50 h month(-1) and race pace and supra-maximal intensity training (approximately 8-14 mM lactate) decreased from 23 to approximately 7 h month(-1); (2) training volume increased by approximately 20%, from 924 to 1128 h yr(-1); (3) altitude training was used as a pre-competition peaking strategy, but it is now integrated into the winter preparation program as periodic 2-3-week altitude camps. The training organization trends are consistent with data collected on athletes from other sports, suggesting a "polarized" pattern of training organization where a high volume of low intensity training is balanced against regular application of training bouts utilizing 90%-95% of VO2 max.