The second annual Rowe.rs technology and performance in rowing conference, held at Dorney Lake, Eton, UK on 21 January, made its mark in terms of hosting discussions of key issues shaping the rowing world today in terms of technology and performance.
The conference showed that making boats go faster remains the primary driver for anyone involved in competitive rowing. However, the discussions therein also showed why science and technology are having a greater-still impact on performance.
On social media, participants have commented widely on the quality of the conference. Arguably, the primary aim in putting together an effective conference is to get the right people speaking on the right issues at the right time. The event was opened by Robin Williams (coach of the double Olympic champion British women’s pair), who talked about how building effective athlete/coach relationships helps boost performance output: at the other end of the day, Dame Katherine Grainger (winner of medals at five consecutive Olympics, including gold in London 2012) concluded the discussions with a wide-ranging talk on her experiences as an Olympian, her role as the new chair of UK sport, and on the components in creating a culture for maximising athlete performance.
In between, the stream sessions covered a range of issues that are shaping debate in sport today: these included the role of support staff in rowing programmes, models for developing youth athletes, women performing in sport, and using technology to develop and monitor athlete progress.
In addition, with racing between school crews becoming ever-more competitive and with Henley Royal Regatta becoming an ever-harder place to win at, British Olympic gold medallist Martin Cross hosted an entertaining and stimulating fireside chat with Shiplake College director of rowing Dave Currie and Thames Rowing Club chief coach Ben Lewis. Shiplake’s first boat lost to Radley College by one length in the semi-final of a hugely competitive Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup in 2017. Thames crews have won the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley twice in the last three years. The presentations prompted varied discussions, both in the sessions and in the margins.
The discussions were enabled with the use of the right venue. Not only is Dorney Lake iconic in the rowing world because of the London 2012 games, but the facilities provided ample but closely connected space for the main conference room and breakout areas, set around a central catering and social hub. The venue enabled free movement between sessions and free flow in discussions. A one-day event sited close to London and to major transport nodes such as Heathrow airport also enabled the assembled international participants to enjoy the whole of the day: scheduling the event for a Sunday also removed (for example) the distractions of the working week.
The aim for the event was to bring international experts in sport coaching, science, and technology to a wider audience. In an era of focus on data and measuring what is important, it is worth noting that the 2017 conference saw an increase in attendance of almost 30% compared to the previous year. This, when coupled with the dynamic programme structure, meant that a range of diverse issues were digested and discussed amongst a larger audience.
The date for the 2018 conference is set, with the event returning to Dorney on 20th January 2019. If interest in the event continues to increase, one challenge for the organisers will be to keep the right level of content, based around punchy presentations and sufficient time for discussion in and around the conference sessions.