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Paddling against the current : a history of women's competitive international rowing between 1954 and 2003 Schweinbenz, Amanda Nicole


In 1954, the Fédération International Sociétés d'Aviron (FISA) hosted the first Women's European Rowing Championships in Maçon, France. Although FISA had never before formally recognized women's competitive international rowing, oarswomen around the world had been active participants for years, competing not only in local and national regattas, but international as well. Despite the historical evidence that women could indeed race at an international level, FISA delegates, all of whom were men, saw fit to curtail women's international participation by shortening the women's racing distance to half of that required of the men and restricting the number and types of events in which women raced. While international oarswomen were limited, these constraints were not completely restrictive. Rather, the introduction of women's races at the European championships created opportunities for oarswomen to display publicly their physical and athletic capabilities while challenging social and historical discourses regarding appropriate female appearance and athletic participation. Since this inaugural event in 1954, female athletes, coaches, and administrators have sought to achieve gender equity in a sport typically associated with men and masculinity. Female rowing enthusiasts pressed to increase opportunities for all oarswomen by negotiating with male sporting administrators to have women's competitive international rowing recognized on the same level as men's rowing. By 2003, their combined efforts, aided by some supportive male coaches and rowing administrators, culminated in the admission of oarswomen to the European championships, the world championships, and the Olympic Games, the change of women's racing distance from 1000 metres to 2000 metres, and the introduction of lightweight women's events at the world championships and Olympic Games. This dissertation examines the complex negotiations that have taken place since 1954 and the context in which they occurred through the use of data collected from archival material and in-depth interviews with current and former female administrators, athletes, and coaches, to document and examine the history of women's competitive international rowing between 1954 and 2003.

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