Purpose: Little is known about the competitive performance characteristics of elite rowers. We report here analyses of performance times for finalists in world-class regattas from 1999 to 2009.
Methods: The data were official race times for the 10 men's and 7 women's single and crewed boat classes, each with ∼ 200-300 different boats competing in 1-33 of the 46 regattas at 18 venues. A linear mixed model of race times for each boat class provided estimates of variability as coefficients of variation after adjustment for means of calendar year, level of competition (Olympics, world championship, World Cup), venue, and level of final (A, B, C, …).
Results: Mean performance was substantially slower between consecutive levels of competition (1.5%, 2.7%) and consecutive levels of finals (∼ 1%-2%). Differences in the effects of venue and of environmental conditions, estimated as variability in mean race time between venues and finals, were extremely large (∼ 3.0%). Within-boat race-to-race variability for A finalists was 1.1% for single sculls and 0.9% for crewed boats, with little difference between men and women and only a small increase in lower-level finalists. Predictability of performance, expressed as intraclass correlation coefficients, showed considerable differences between boat classes, but the mean was high (∼ 0.63), with little difference between crewed and single boats, between men and women, and between within and between years.
Conclusions: The race-to-race variability of boat times of ∼ 1.0% is similar to that in comparable endurance sports performed against water or air resistance. Estimates of the smallest important performance enhancement (∼ 0.3%) and the effects of level of competition, level of final, venue, environment, and boat class will help inform investigations of factors affecting elite competitive rowing performance.