R.I.P, Light Four

Brandenburg, GERMANY. GBR LM4-. Bow. Chris Bartley, Mark Aldred, Jonno Clegg and Peter Chambers. Silver medalists in the men's lightweight four at the 2016 European Rowing Championships at the Regattastrecke Beetzsee. Photo: Peter Spurrier.

It’s hard not to see FISA’s decision to end lightweight sweep events at the Olympics through anything other than my own biased perspective, given I spent the majority of my national team career in—or trying to get into—the light four.

It was a confounding boat class; more technical than a small boat and at times as fast as an eight. Its most advanced practitioners—the Swiss, the French, and, of course, The Danish—put on a clinic every time they took to the water and our sport was better off for it. To this day, I’m in awe of what went on in that event.

But times, and tastes, change. And when it came to choosing between long-overdue gender parity and preserving an event that, however exciting, failed to meaningfully increase universality, the decision was clear.

Many didn’t see it that way. In the days that followed the FISA Extraordinary Congress, my Facebook feed was overrun with posts decrying all that was lost with the decision. None, however, considered what was gained.

For one, the change likely strengthened rowing’s position in the eyes of the International Olympic committee, which in the Agenda 2020 era, is a good thing. But more importantly, there are now four additional seats for women’s sweep.

I think back to what it was like when I learned that lightweights could race at the Olympics, and I can’t help but feel there are athletes out there who look at the increased opportunity in the same way.

As for lightweight sweep, I am less hopeful. It’s hard to argue we’re better off today than before the start of this Olympic experiment. But traditions run deep in this sport, and like the women’s four, there’s no ruling out a comeback.