Rowing events are contested by individuals, pairs and crews of four and eight. In addition to the crew of eight is a coxswain, who sits in the stern of the boat while steering it and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers.
Races are held in the heavyweight category or in the lightweight category. There are a total of 14 boat classes in the Olympic regatta. The races cover a distance of 2,000m divided into six lanes, in a river, canal or lake-type competition venue. Crews qualify through predetermined rounds, namely the preliminary round (heats), the repeat round (repechages), the semifinals and the final. The “A” final determines the first six places and the “B” final determines the next six rankings, namely seventh to 12th positions. The number of rounds per event depends on the number of crews taking part.
The races take place under the supervision of umpires, who are members of the jury for every event. The jury members are placed at various locations on and off the competition course: the starting line (where the races begin, under the supervision of the aligner and the starter); along the course of the race in the competition lanes (under the supervision of umpires), the finishing line (with the finish-line umpire); the identity verification stage of the crews before their embarkation onto the boats; the weighing-in of the athletes; the weighing-in of boats; and, in general, in all areas directly related to the competition, the athletes and their equipment.
The boats (a.k.a. shells) traditionally were made of wood, but are now mostly manufactured from synthetic materials such as carbon fibre and plastic. A small fin is fitted in the underside of the shell for stability and a rudder, for steering, is attached to the fin or the stern (except on sculling boats). Each race is a test of endurance, where boats can travel up to 10 metres per second. Winning a 2,000-metre race requires sprinting for half of it. In a 500-metre home stretch, crews can reach rowing speeds of 47 strokes per minute.