It has been a year of huge changes in Para rowing, with World Rowing (FISA) taking the decision to double the standard race distance to 2,000m. The move was designed to further integrate and grow the sport alongside able-bodied competition, and for Para rowers it meant a major shift in the way they prepared for competition in 2017.
For Norway’s Birgit Skarstein, the challenge was accepted. Her success amid the changes enters as No. 44 on the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Top 50 Moments of 2017.
Skarstein began rowing in 2012 and competed at four World Rowing Championships and the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, where she finished fourth in the finals.
“I remember the emptiness when I came home from Rio,” Skarstein had said.
It is common for athletes to take a well-deserved break from their sport once the Paralympic Games conclude. But with Tokyo 2020 in sights, Skarstein soon returned on the water.
During the spring and summer of 2017, Skarstein trained every morning with the Norwegian rowing team. Even before then, she was preparing for the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, where she aims to race in Nordic skiing.
And it was the Nordic skiing training that helped her adjust to the new race distance, improving her strength and stamina.
Skarstein tested herself over 2,000m in June, at the World Rowing Cup II in Poznan, Poland. She won – but the question was whether that would carry over into the 2017 World Rowing Championships in October in Sarasota-Bradenton, USA.
The 28-year-old won the PR1 W1x title by six seconds ahead of Israel’s Moran Samuel.
“Race was really hard, I had a tough start and had to make my way through the field,” Skarstein said after the race.
Samuel, who beat Skarstein for the bronze medal at Rio 2016, said: “I thought I’ll give it a try to beat Birgit, but she’s a wonderful competitor."
The full rundown of the Top 50 Moments will continue until 31 December.