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Rowing 101: Regatta Progression

With the Youth National Championships coming up on June 10, it might be helpful for some readers to get a quick overview of what the racing structure is like.  In rowing, the term “progression” refers to the format which determines the final finish order.  Sometimes this is a very simple process requiring just one or two races, sometimes it may require many races to determine.  A lot depends on the number of crews entered, the time available to race, and the importance of the race.

Most of the races that we take part in during the spring are just one-shot deals in which a crew will only race once.  Usually this is because there are only a few entrants in an event, or it’s a dual meet where there is only one or two other crews.  However, in some cases, like at the Green Lake Regatta or the Husky Open Regatta, there may be more entrants than the course can hold.  In these cases they will simply run two separate events and award the top three finishers in each race.

While we can speculate afterward about who the actual fastest crews were in these events, the fact of the matter is there are two or three winners.  These regattas are early in the season and really just provide good racing opportunities.  They also run on tight time frames so they would be unable to run more races to determine actual winners.  Many people, including coaches, will compare the times between two races to try to get a better picture of the actual order, but even here the comparisons are suspect.  Both the Green Lake Regatta and Husky Open use a floating start format where the sterns are not held.  This often means that each race will be rowing a slightly different distance.  The officials are not necessarily obligated to have the bows perfectly lined up on the start line, they are only obligated to have all the bows aligned.  As a result, the difference in distance could mean several seconds in finish times.  Weather conditions can also change from race to race and can also have a drastic effect on times.

At longer, bigger regattas, boats will often have to progress to the final race through qualifying heats.  At Brentwood and the Northwest Regional Championships, most events require boats to finish within the top two or three crews in order to advance to the Final.  All other crews are eliminated, the one exception being in the Varsity 8+ and Varsity 1x events at Brentwood which also have a “Petite Final” for places 7-12.  While these events can sometimes be seeded based on previous years results or polling, a crew’s chances of making the Final can sometimes rely as much on the luck of the draw as it does on speed.  Sometimes a crew draws a heat with faster crews than another heat.  To reduce the effects of random chance on a crew’s ability to advance to the final, the most important regattas will use a more complicated system.

The progression structure used at the upcoming Youth National Championship is similar to ones used at many high-level national and international events.  It involves four stages of racing: heats, repechages, semifinals, and finals.  Heats work similar to heats at earlier regattas except for one critical difference: no crew gets eliminated after the heat.  Instead, the first one or two crews will go straight to the next round: the grand final or semifinal if necessary.  Any remaining crews will advance to the repechage.

The repechage (“rep” for short), a French word meaning “second chance”, is essentially a second qualifying round of heats.  The crews are redistributed based on their finish in the heats.  From the repechage, the top crews will advance to the final or semifinal.  The remaining crews will either advance to a lower level final (petite final or 3rd level final) or they will be eliminated.

If the number of entries in an event warrant it, semifinals will be run to determine who races in the grand final.  From here, the top three crews go to the Grand Final while the remaining crews will advance to the Petite Final.  Medals are only awarded to the top three crews in the Grand Final.  The Petite Final, C Final, etc. are only meant to determine placing beyond the Grand Final.

Each regatta may have a slightly different progression structure, and each regatta will publish its progression rules ahead of time so teams know what to expect.  The progression in each event will depend on the number of crews competing.  For example,  Mount Baker has three crews racing in the upcoming Youth National Championship, and each crew has a different progression.

The Girls Lightweight 8+, 17 entries:

  • Three heats, winner goes straight to the semifinal, all others to the reps.
  • Three reps, top three to the semifinals, all others to the C Final.
  • Two semifinals, top three to the Grand Final, all others to the Petite Final.
  • Three finals (Grand, Petite, and C Final)

The Girls Varsity 4+, 25 entries:

  • Six (!) heats, winner goes straight to the semifinals, all other to the reps.
  • Six (!!) reps, winner goes to the semifinals, second goes to the C Final, all others are eliminated.
  • Two Semifinals, top three go to the Grand Final, all others go to the Petite Final.

The Boys Varsity 8+, 21 entries:

  • Four heats, winner goes straight to the semifinals, all others to the reps.
  • Four reps, top two go to the semifinals, third place plus the two fastest fourth place times go to the C Final, all others are eliminated.
  • Two Semifinals, top three go to the Grand Final, all others go to the Petite Final.

For anyone interested, the USRowing Rules of Rowing publishes the most common progressions used.

Coming up next in Rowing 101: Boat Configurations