Rowing blades have the same function as flags. Their design make it possible to identify competing rowers from a distance. Where national flags are sometimes too similar, rowing blades are ment to be much more distinguishable.
The rowing competitions at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have ended with a total of three British gold medals. Germany’s and New Zealand’s Olympic teams rank second with two gold medals each.
In the most prestigious categories Mahé Drysdale of New Zealand won the men’s single scull competition and Kim Brennan of Australia won the women’s single scull competition; Great Britain came first in the men’s eight competition and USA won gold in the women’s eight competition.
A total of 69 countries qualified at least one rower to participate. So, a wide range of rowing blade designs could be seen on the water in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon.
Together with national flags and specially designed clothing, rowing blades are part of the branding and symbolism that surround the competing teams at professional rowing events. Going back a very long time, boats, oars, and blades have sported the colours of their respective national, club, school or university teams.
Simple, easily visible and mutually distinguishable designs on oars makes it possible to identify different competitors from afar. This is the reason why not all national rowing teams sport their national flag on their blades.
Countries with rowing blades similar to the national flags are e.g. Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia and South Africa.
Other countries use rowing blades with elements of their national flags: The People’s Republic of China a white background with five golden stars on a red band. Norway a red background with white-blue-white stripes. Denmark a white background with a red stripe. This is the reverse of the Danish flag which has a white cross on red. The white-red-white design, unusual in a Danish context, may be explained by the wish not to be confused with Switzerland’s or Austria’s designs.
The United States of America use blades with a design not unlike the flag of Czechia: Two horizontal bands of red and blue and a triangle of white. The colours are those of the US flag, the Stars and Stripes.
A third group of countries incorporate elements of their national coat of arms in their rowing blade designs. Sweden’s three yellow crowns on blue blades are identical to the Swedish coat of arms. The red and white checkers from the arms of Croatia on flags, sports clothes and rowing blades make Crotia’s sporting teams and Olympic athletes easily recognizable. The Greek rowing blades have the white cross on a blue background known from Greece’s arms and flag.
Finally, a fourth group of countries use rowing blades with no connection to the national flags and arms. The blades of the New Zealand team are black with a silver fern and the letters NZ in white. The blades of the Australian team are white with vertical tripes of green-yellow-green.
Many sports fans all over the world know very well that the sporting colours of Australia are green and yellow and those of New Zealand are black and white. For example, the famous NZ national rugby team is know as the All Blacks. The flags of Australia and New Zealand may look very much alike, the rowing blades of these rowing superpowers certainly do not.
This is part 2 in a series about flags at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Read also:
What On Earth Is “Chinese Taipei”?
FLAG FAIL: An Open Letter to the IOC
Extracting the Essence of the Union Flag