– The International Rowing Federation says one must tolerate a certain amount of physiological variation. But it’s like saying that “now we’re going to make the women’s class more inclusive, so now we’re opening it up to men”, says Skarstein dejectedly.
She almost has to laugh at the whole situation where she is preparing for an EC where she is not quite sure what awaits her. The reason is that the International Rowing Federation (WR) has changed her class to the open formulation PR1 (Para rowing 1).
The difference from the old class, which was only called “arms and shoulders”, is that it is now open to athletes with leg function and can therefore use so-called leg kicks.
– It helps a lot with a rotak to be able to kick with the legs. In a normal rotak, the leg kick is 70 percent. There are quite large protests out there now and people are boycotting and are deeply pissed off and angry, says Skarstein.
– Significant difference
She understands well all the protests that now characterize her environment.
– There is such a markedly large difference in being able to kick with the legs that you run the risk of athletes winning because they simply have more leg function. It’s not fun to win against people who are obviously more injured than you, and it’s not fun to be beaten either by someone who has a function you can never train, she explains.
The full effect of what the rule change has to say for her class was already seen during the World Cup in Poznań in early summer.
Italian Giacomo Perini participated for the first time in class PR1 and was totally superior. No one was able to follow him and in the end Perini had set a new world record by almost 20 seconds.
– It will be very difficult to progress with a class where you have great advantages with your legs, while others do not. This will not be very much a sign of fair play, says sporting director of the rowing association, Daniel Berge.
– Now there are many in my class who say that we don’t want this. This is badly done. There is simply a lot of noise about it. I’m actually a bit excited about the EC if there will be a mark, that there are many who won’t come, says Skarstein.
NRK has been in contact with the International Rowing Federation, who say that the relevant persons responsible for the topic are either on holiday or busy with the EC in Munich. It will therefore take time before a possible response.
Working behind the scenes
Skarstein now uses his voice in the organizational channels of the International Rowing Federation.
– We of course work behind the scenes to ensure that it is as fair as possible out there. We all have different physical variations, but I think that you should want to do it as fairly as possible, because then it’s nicest to watch and nicest to do it, says Skarstein.
In collaboration with Great Britain and Australia, Norway is now working on sending an official letter to the International Rowing Federation.
– I really want it to be as fair play as possible, and then I think you have to compare apples with apples and pears with pears, she says.
Sporting leader Berge also says that they will work together with the big ronations to get a joint statement about the dissatisfaction.
– We are very supportive of Birgit’s fight here and want to find out as much as we can in this matter. We hope that we can get an uprising that we can get heard internationally, says Berge.
As always, Skarstein manages to see the situation positively.
– It is extra wonderful to win when I know that they actually have more function than me and I still manage to take them. Then it means that I have done a really good job on the technical side, the physical side of the upper body, on equipment, on technique.
– That is why we must always be at the front. Rowing is my great love, so I can’t give up just because of that, Skarstein concludes with a smile.