Paralympic Games
24 August - 5 September 2021

Tokyo 2020: Takeaways from Para Rowing

Great Britain were the only country to win more than one gold in Para Rowing at Tokyo 2020 03 Nov 2021
Female rower on her boat celebrates gold medal
TASTE OF SUCCESS: Birgit Skarstein celebrates with the women's single sculls gold at Tokyo 2020
By Lucy Dominy | For the IPC

At the Tokyo 2020, for the first time, Para rowing used the same distance as their Olympic counterparts – 2,000m. Adopted in 2017, this rule change doubled the distance used at the 2016, 2012, and 2008 Paralympic regattas. Para rowers were up for this new challenge and there were some exciting finishes.


Having shot to national fame for her incredible performances on Norway’s version of Dancing with the Stars in 2020, Birgit Skarstein arrived in Tokyo with a point to prove.

The 32-year-old is one of her country’s most impressive athletes, beginning rowing in 2012 and later competing in Nordic skiing at both the Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games. The Norwegian has therefore been competing for her country for nearly a decade, and was perhaps due for a podium-topping performance.

Skarstein delivered in the women’s PR1 single sculls, taking the lead from the start to build an unassailable lead.

Laurence Whiteley and Lauren Rowles of Great Britain celebrates after winning the Gold Medal in the PR2 Mixed Double Sculls. © Naomi Baker/Getty Images


Great Britain were the only country to win more than one gold in Para Rowing at Tokyo 2020. What makes that impressive is that there were only four medal events on offer.

The PR2 mixed double sculls of Lauren Rowles and Laurence Whiteley successfully defended their Paralympic title. The duo used a calculated and well-rehearsed rowing plan to finish in commanding style.

Britain's second gold came in the PR3 mixed coxed four when they won by an open water lead and continued an unbeaten winning streak that goes back to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. The crew of Ellen Buttrick, Giedre Rakauskaite, James Fox, Oliver Stanhope and coxswain Erin Kennedy had just Fox as a returner from the Rio 2016 winning crew.

However, whilst two golds is an incredible achievement, Great Britain did drop down from the three golds they won five years ago.

Roman Polianskyi of Team Ukraine after he wins gold in the PR1 Men's Single Sculls final. © Naomi Baker/Getty Images


Getting to the Paralympic Games is an achievement in any sport or event, including rowing.

So when three countries – Ukraine, the USA and Brazil – qualified boats in all four classes, it was considered a major achievement.

The investment paid off for the trio of nations. Ukraine left with one gold courtesy of Roman Polianskyi in the PR1 men’s single sculls. The USA collected silver in the PR3 mixed cox four with the crew of Allie Reilly, Danielle Hansen, Charley Nordin, John Tanguay and Karen Petrik. And Brazil grabbed bronze in the PR1 men’s single sculls.