The 9 best female rowers in history

You need to have several qualities in order to be a successful rower. Besides all the physical stuff like having strong quads and triceps, the best rowers also need good teamwork and leadership skills—especially when things get competitive.

Women’s rowing has traditionally been dominated by Eastern European countries in terms of success and medals won over the years. For example, countries like Romania have produced some stellar female rowers throughout history.

That said, plenty of female rowers have hailed from British shores and elsewhere, too.

In no particular order, here are 9 of the best female rowers to have ever graced the water.


Helen Glover

Nationality: British (England)

Born: 17 June, 1986

Rowing medals

  • 2 Olympic golds
  • 5 World Rowing Championship medals (3 gold, 2 silver)
  • 13 World Rowing Cup gold medals
  • 4 European Rowing Championship gold medals

Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Helen Glover MBE is widely considered one of the best British female rowers of all time.

Glover, one of the most decorated athletes in the GB rowing team, has more than 20 gold medals to her name and was ranked the number-one female rower in the world in 2015-16.

She partnered with Heather Stanning and made British rowing history at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The awesome pair became the first British female rowers to successfully defend an Olympic title, having also won gold in London in 2012.

Glover has also won gold at the World Rowing Cup an astonishing 13 times!


Katherine Grainger

Nationality: British (Scotland)

Born: 12 November, 1975

Rowing medals

  • 5 Olympic medals (1 gold, 4 silver)
  • 8 World Rowing Championship medals (6 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
  • 1 European Rowing Championship medal (bronze)

Katherine Grainger DBE is another of Team GB’s Olympic gold medallist rowers from London 2012.

She and her rowing partner Anna Watkins broke the Olympic record in London as they won their first heat in a record time of 6:44.33 before clinching gold in the double sculls final.

Grainger also holds 4 Olympic silver medals, including one at the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016, which she won alongside Victoria Thornley after returning from a two-year break from rowing.

Now retired from the sport, Grainger is Chancellor at the University of Glasgow.


Georgeta Damian

Nationality: Romanian

Born: 14 April, 1976

Rowing medals

  • 6 Olympic medals (5 gold, 1 bronze)
  • 11 World Rowing Championship medals (5 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze)
  • 3 European Rowing Championship golds

Romanian rower Georgeta Damian has won five Olympic golds, putting her among some of the most decorated female rowers in the game.

Her first two Olympic golds both came at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney—where she was part of the Romanian Women’s Eight and also the Women’s Pairs alongside Doina Ignat.

Those two medals in 2000 were certainly not Damian’s first taste of gold, though. She was already a three-time World Rowing Championship winner by this point, having taken home gold in three consecutive years in 1997, 1998 and 1999.


Elisabeta Lipă

Nationality: Romanian

Born: 26 October, 1964

Rowing medals

  • 8 Olympic medals (5 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze)
  • 13 World Rowing Championship medals (1 gold, 8 silver, 4 bronze)

Elisabeta Lipă is the most decorated rower in Olympic history, with five gold medals, two silver, and one bronze to her name.

Her first Olympic gold medal came at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, where she won the women’s double sculls event alongside rowing partner Marioara Popescu.

Lipă currently holds the rowing record for the longest amount of time between two gold medals—at 20 years. She won gold again at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, two decades after her first.

Such is Lipă’s fame and status in her native Romania, she even featured on a postal stamp in 2004. That same year, she became the first female rower in history to compete at six different Olympics.


Kathrin Boron

Nationality: German

Born: 4 November, 1969

Rowing medals

  • 5 Olympic medals (4 gold, 1 bronze)
  • 13 World Rowing Championship medals (8 gold, 5 silver)

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Kathrin Boron is one of Germany’s all-time greatest female rowers.

After suffering tough injury setbacks early on in her rowing career, Boron bounced back strongly, securing the bulk of her career golds throughout the 1990s. However, her first career gold came in 1989 at the World Rowing Championships held at Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Ten of Boron’s career total of 18 medals were won between 1990 and 1999. Her outstanding rowing career was formally honoured in 2009 when she was awarded the Thomas Keller Medal.


Caryn Davies

Nationality: American

Born: 14 April, 1982

Rowing medals

  • 3 Olympic medals (2 gold, 1 silver)
  • 4 World Rowing Championship golds
  • 8 World Rowing Cup medals (5 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)

American rower Caryn Davies has won more Olympic medals than any other US female rower. She has two gold medals (from Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012) and a silver from Athens in 2004 to her name.

In 2015, Davies rowed with the winning Oxford University team in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, becoming the most decorated Olympian ever to participate in the annual event.

If her rowing career wasn’t impressive enough, Davies also has a degree in Psychology from Harvard University—where she was also part of the rowing team. She is the most decorated Harvard Olympian in any sport.

She also shares the same birthday as Georgeta Damian—there must be something special about April 14th!


Viorica Susanu

Nationality: Romanian

Born: 29 October, 1975

Rowing medals

  • 5 Olympic medals (4 gold, 1 bronze)
  • 11 World Rowing Championship medals (5 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze)
  • 2 European Rowing Championship golds

Viorica Susanu was another member of the Romanian Women’s Eight that won three consecutive World Rowing Championships in 1997, 1998 and 1999, followed by gold at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Susanu went on to enjoy further success at the World Championships in 2001 and 2002, pairing with Georgeta Damian.

The duo set a new world record during the final of the 2002 Championships in Seville, recording a time of 6:53.80—more than four seconds faster than Canadian pair Jacqui Cook and Karen Clark.


Doina Ignat

Nationality: Romanian

Born: 20 December, 1968

Rowing medals

  • 6 Olympic medals (4 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
  • 2 European Rowing Championship golds

Doina Ignat is the fourth piece in the jigsaw—along with compatriots Elisabeta Lipă, Georgeta Damian, and Viorica Susanu—widely regarded as the Golden Generation in Romanian women’s rowing. These four female rowers alone have 25 Olympic medals between them.

Though Ignat won silver in the quadruple sculls event at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, her first career gold came four years later, at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, Georgia.

Ignat went on to win further Olympic golds in 2000 and 2004 and won bronze in Beijing in 2008.

She also won gold in two consecutive European Rowing Championships in 2007 and 2008.


Susan Francia

Nationality: Hungarian-American

Born: 8 November, 1982

Rowing medals

  • 2 Olympic golds
  • 7 World Rowing Championship medals (5 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)

Though born in Hungary, Susan Francia grew up in Pennsylvania, USA, and represented the United States throughout her competitive rowing career.

She won gold at her very first Olympic Games as part of the US Women’s Eight in Beijing in 2008. She followed that up with another gold in the same event four years later at the 2012 Games in London.

Francia consistently thrived as part of a rowing eight. All but one of her seven career golds were won in Women’s Eight events, including at the World Rowing Championships. The ‘odd one out’, as it were, was in the coxless pair event at the 2009 World Championships in Poland.


Specialist rowing insurance through Insure4Sport

If you’re a rower—regardless of your level or ability—you might want to consider specialist rowing insurance before taking to the water.

As with most high-intensity sports, rowing comes with a risk of injury—not just to you but to your fellow rowers, too. Rowing equipment can also be expensive, and the last thing you want is to be forking out for costly repairs from your own pocket if you don’t have the right provisions in place.

That’s where your insurance comes in. Specialist sports insurance with Insure4Sport can cover rowing coaches and instructors, individual rowers, or full rowing teams. Learn more about specialist rowing insurance and get a quote here.

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