Some 25 miles west of London's city center sits Eton Dorney, a world-class rowing facility where the 14 rowing events (eight for the men, six for women) will take place. There are two types of rowing -- sculls (two oars per rower) and sweep (one oar). The eight is the only event that has a coxswain, who sits at the end of the boat, calls strokes and steers.
Each race is 2,000 meters long, and six boats race in each heat.
As the German men have dominated the men's eight in this Olympic cycle, so have the U.S. in the women's event. The five-time defending world champions and 2008 gold medalists will be the women to beat in the eight. In the women's pair, Sarah Zelenka and Sara Hendershot, who were part of the gold-medal-winning women's quad at the 2011 World Championships, may have an outside shot for a bronze. In the smaller boats, the women's quadruple sculls crew, which won a silver at last year's worlds, has three top five finishes this year.
Over the last three Worlds, U.S. men's crews have medaled in just two events, neither of which are on the Olympic program. The best chance for a podium finish for the U.S. may be the men's four, but the attention during that race will likely be fixated on the Australians' bid to unseat the British, who have won the event in the last three Olympics.
For the first time in modern Olympic history, the U.S. men's eight, which had won a gold medal in Athens and a bronze in Beijing, failed to qualify for London at last year's World Championships, forcing the crew to wait until the last-ditch qualifying event in late June. A win in Switzerland secured a place at the games, but with underwhelming results lately (8th in 2011 Worlds, 6th in 2010), the expectations for the boat are low.
In the coxless pair and quad, steering is controlled by a rudder that is attached to strings and controlled by one of the rowers' feet.... In the lightweight events, men can weigh no more than 160 pounds and women no more than 130. But the crews must average no more than 154.3 pounds for men and 125.7 pounds for women.