‘No Olympic goal, so I quit’: lightweight rowers

Early morning training of lightweight rowers. Photograph: Stijn Wijnen.

Dutch lightweight rowers foresee they are quitting soon due to the potential exclusion of their sport from the Olympic Games. Martine Veldhuis, spare rower for the Olympic Women Double Sculls, and Tjalling Veldhuis, rower at student club Aegir, both agree: without a purpose, we will quit.

A bit of hope is reignited, because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that lightweight rowing will stay on the Olympic Games in Paris. Previously, the IOC was optimistic about the recommendation of the rowing federation World Rowing to change lightweight rowing for coastal rowing after Tokyo. However, lightweight rowing is still in the schedule for Paris 2024, because of a lack of money due to the coronavirus.

The journalistic platform about Dutch Rowing noted that lightweight rowing is also excluded based on the fact that it is the only Olympic sport, besides martial arts, that has weight limits: for men the crew average needs to be 70 kilograms or less and an individual rower’s weight can be no more than 72.5 kilograms, for women the crew average needs to be no more than 57 kilograms and an individual rower’s weight can be less than 59 kilograms.

“It needs to be attractive to row. If only tall and strong people can row in the Olympic Games, you exclude a purpose for 30 to 40 per cent of the rowers” explains Steven Edelenbos, professional coach of the student rowing club Aegir. “Even though it might be unrealistic, this dream is why rowers get on the water every single day.”

Martine Veldhuis was certain that she would quit rowing after Tokyo. “Based on health, I think lightweight rowing might not be beneficial. But there are more sports that are bad for your health.” Now she is doubting to continue until Paris.

She still has the opportunity, but Tjalling Veldhuis’ chances decrease: “Development projects in lightweight rowing are already getting more restricted.”

“The rowing clubs will not spend their money on lightweight rowing anymore and I do not blame them” says Steven Edelenbos. “There is nothing to win, so why invest.”

The IOC wants to add coastal rowing in the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, because it is more spectacular. Martine Veldhuis disagrees: “Lightweight rowing is very competitive. People win and lose based on seconds. It is the crème de la crème that you and I will have to miss.”

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