Highly immersive environments for sports simulation can help elucidate if and how athletes perform under high pressure situations. We used a rowing simulator with a CAVE setup to test the influence of virtual competitors on 10 experienced rowers. All participants were using the simulator for the first time. The objective was to assess the degree of presence by quantifying how the actions of the virtual competitors triggered behavioral changes in the experienced rowers. The participants completed a virtual 2000 m race with two competing boats, one being behind and one ahead of the participant. For two trials, each boat would come closer to the participant without overtaking, resulting in four experimental conditions. The behavior of the participants was assessed with biomechanical variables, questionnaires, and an interview after the race. Behavioral changes were detected with statistically significant differences in the extracted variables of oar angles, timing variables, velocities, and work. The results for biomechanical variables indicate individual response patterns depending on perception of competitors and self-confidence. Self-reporting indicated a high degree of presence for most participants. Overall, the experimental paradigm worked but was compromised by perceptive and subjective factors. In future, the setup will be used to investigate rowing performance further with a focus on motor learning and training of pressure situations.

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