Lessons Learned from the Olympics

summarized by David DeWinter
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Paul Thompson MBE – Rowing Australia Performance Director (ex-China Performance Director)

The 3-Sentence Summary

Being aware of trends in increasing speed, stroke rates, and more-even 2k pacing at the elite level can give us good insights on how to adapt our training programs to focus on aerobic power, distance and power per stroke, and maintaining speed in the middle 1000m.


0:33 Olympic teams were drastically impacted by two things: how their countries handled COVID and how they responded to the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics.

4:36 China Rowing (and Canoe) Federation is self-funded. First indoor rowing regatta was televised nationally to 1.4 billion people. China is pouring big money into rowing: Shunyi Park

Trends in Racing at the Elite Level

8:53 The medal table: many countries missing from or low on the list that have traditionally been strong (incl. USA, Great Britain, Germany).

9:43 There has been a definitive break in British dominance.

10:42 Was there more spread in medals between larger and smaller countries? Not compared to history, even though 60 nations were there.

12:44 Championship speed over time. 6 World Best Times were set in Tokyo, so speeds are still getting faster.

15:48 Stroke rates were generally higher, probably because of the strong tailwind. The crew who rates the highest doesn’t win all the time. Distance/power per stroke at that rate is what wins.

18:02 Race profiles have changed to be significantly more even across each 500m split, also likely due to conditions.

  1. Difference between the gold and silver was in the 2nd 500m. The winners were about 1.0 second faster than their closest competitors.
  2. The winners were among the slowest at the start, but much faster in the middle.

(Remember GPS tracking is always going to be ± 2 meters when you’re analyzing data.)

Training and Performance

24:06 Distance and power per stroke are important, so I emphasize rate-capped work to create length and power. You can learn from racing trend data to inform your training model.

  • Example: The data showed the 2nd 500 was the most important, so training to come down in rate but maintaining as much speed as possible was crucial.
  • Example 2: What’s the purpose of the start? To get out in front or to establish rhythm and pace? Do athletes have the confidence to be behind and not get rattled?


28:51 (Visual) Success is not always what you see. You can’t assume that what you see is actually the “magic” in a program.

30:30 Key work we’ve done: 30′ erg rate 20 – length and power

31:44 We know that 70-80% of 2K is aerobic, so aerobic power is important.

32:55 On the water, doing work below race pace (30 – 32) to work distance per stroke.


Training for Racing

33:50 Where are the trends heading?

The results are getting much more unpredictable and the finish times are getting tighter.

35:04 How do you prioritize different aspects of performance over the Olympiad cycle?

Performance planning 101: Set the outcome and reverse engineer the path. Biomechanics is a high priority to understand boat movement and to discourage suboptimal stroke patterns. Don’t get lost in data and analysis; it’s important to coach with your own (evidence-based) model of high performance and work to that.

37:42 Is there anything to the strategy of never settling?

Winning crews need to have the distance/power per stroke foundation no matter what their stroke rate. Coaches need to work on guiding crews for the last 500m; if you’re at 40-42, where do you go from there? Can you keep your length and power to increase speed?

I never talk to crews about settling; I talk to them about creating length, rhythm, and speed.

Paris 2024

39:44 What do you think about the shorter course (1500m) in LA?

We’ll have to figure it out. I’m still trying to get through to Paris! We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things.

41:35 How do you think different athletes will handle this 3-year cycle?

It’ll be hardest on the athletes who want a bit of downtime. Qualifications are in 18 months. At the same time, it’s a short time to be able to gear up to really achieve something great.

What has caught me by surprise is the amount of change in rowing federations around the world.

45:19 Knowing that you don’t have a lot of time for Paris, what principles do you prioritize based on your experience with other rowing federations?

You need to be respectful, listen first, and understand what pace of change is needed: revolution or evolution. Get the team bought into a shared vision together.

48:05 How do you make changes in a new organization in a systematic way without steamrolling over everyone?

Listen. If people (including athletes) feel involved with changes and they’ve been listened to, even if they don’t agree with everything, they will help move you forward.

Create a healthy culture to promote this–feedback without fear, bad behavior not tolerated, autonomy, feeling valued.

Wrap Up

52:36 With these race profile trends, do you see any big changes in how teams prepare for the 2k?

You have to balance the physiological principles of pacing with the psychological principles of how being ahead or behind affects your athletes.

55:13 Final words of wisdom?

The secret is there’s no secret. Emphasize the quality of what you do.

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