Forget grass-banked rivers and a 2000m straight course. In the heart of urban Buenos Aires, the YOG rowing competition aims to attract a new audience with a revolutionary twist
Set on a channel in the Puerto Madero waterfront, the rowing competition at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games will challenge athletes with dramatic changes in its format, such as a shorter distance (500m) and a time-trial preliminary round that includes turning around a buoy. The World Rowing Federation (FISA) admits the changes owe a lot to the landmark venue.
Comprised of four boat classes (single sculls and pair for men and women), the event starts on Sunday (7 October) with a time trial that will determine the seeding of the athletes for the subsequent points-accumulation rounds, where the crews will then qualify for the quarterfinals and semifinals. In the time trial, competitors will be clocked over 1000m as they complete one length of the course, turn around a buoy and then regain their line to race back to the finish.
Since the world junior championships ended in August, rowers have been honing their skills to cope with the new format. Some fear they still have a long way to go. World junior champion in the women’s pair event, Christina Bourmpou (GRE), is still struggling with the turn - a first in her career.
“We don’t know exactly how to do it,” she said. “Sometimes we make the turns too big, and other times too small. Sometimes we go too fast, and other times too slow.”
Christian Malis, coach of Romania’s junior world champion pair rowers Florin Arteni-Fintinariu and Alexandru-Laurentiu Danciu, is pessimistic about repeating their success.
“Not sure we are getting another gold here,” he said. “The rowers are out of the comfort zone. We are good at the long-distance course, but here everything is different. They need to change their heart rate, their breathing, and even the muscles they have to work harder. It’s a complete different training they have to adjust.”
The Puerto Madero docks have become a popular tourist spot since their renovation in the 1990s and now host offices, lofts and luxurious restaurants and hotels. The rowing course passes under the iconic Women’s Bridge (pictured above), designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and inspired by the image of a couple dancing tango.
“The main aspect here was to be right in the middle of the city, on an urban environment, with the public all around,” said Mike Tanner, FISA executive committee member.
“The YOG is always a special opportunity to attract a new audience into the sport. We have opened our minds and asked ourselves how could we make this the most exciting we can for the participants, still keeping the values of the sport.”
The venue is part of the Urban Park, where rowing will share the action with YOG newcomers such as breaking and sport climbing, as well as basketball 3x3, cycling and canoeing.
“This shortened version might not be traditional, but it is a brilliant solution,” said Zimbabwe rowing manager Maggie Gibson. “It makes us feel part of the cool sports. The more you feel the place, the more I love the idea of changing it to fit into the venue.”