Sunday, April 20, 2014
Saturday, April 19, 2014
He bartered his time
to row between
the twin islands
of his classes,
of engineering and design,
set in the river of his junior year
For him, life was design.
And as he rowed he drew
in his mind measures
of his own template
he laid on the world
at large as he went.
He knew the design he rowed
on the river could not last,
erased it as he rowed it, in fact,
which made him
want to barter more and more
of his time to row,
this the vanishing
point of design he sought,
to transcribe on drafting
paper in class the design,
invisable, underlying the visible
design of the universe. He rowed for this.
29 August 2013
Friday, April 18, 2014
Iztok Cop (Slovenia)
Slovenian sporting legend, Iztok Cop had a career that spanned more than two decades and included six Olympic Games. Cop’s success began as a junior when he rowed for Yugoslavia. Cop medalled as a 19-year-old at the World Rowing Championships.
A year later Cop became the first Olympic medallist for the newly-independent Slovenia in the men’s pair. At the next Olympics, in 1996, Cop raced the men’s single sculls finishing fourth. He then teamed up with Luka Spik and together they became Olympic Champions in the men’s double sculls at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. This partnership continued through the next three Olympic Games with Cop adding silver and bronze to his Olympic collection. Cop has been described as the glue amongst his fellow athletes from around the world and also as a great role model for young Slovenian rowers.
Caroline (Meyer) and Georgina Evers-Swindell (Earl) (New Zealand)
The identical twins, Caroline and Georgina retired in 2008 as two-time Olympic Champions after 15 years in the sport. At Beijing they successfully defended their title in the women’s double sculls in the closest finish of the Olympic regatta. This was the first time in the history of Olympic rowing that the women’s double sculls title had been successfully defended.
Their success began in 2002 with a World Champion title and, as the Evers-Swindell’s success continued to grow, they inspired a generation of New Zealand high school girls to take up rowing. They added two more World Champion titles along the way making them the dominant force in the women’s double. The twins’ impact on sport in New Zealand was recognised when they were awarded the Athlete of the Decade in 2010 at New Zealand’s sports awards.
Drew Ginn (Australia)
Ginn shot to fame as part of Australia’s celebrated Oarsome Foursome when they won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Following this Ginn went on to help Australia win medals in the eight, coxed four and pair. At the 1999 World Rowing Championships Ginn, along with partner James Tomkins, became World Champions in the pair setting themselves up as favourites for the 2000 Olympics. A back injury forced Ginn out of the boat and out of rowing at the eleventh hour. But Ginn’s tenacity and perseverance saw him back on form two years later and in 2003 he was again a World Champion. Ginn followed this up with Olympic gold in Athens.
After a post-Olympic break, Ginn returned with new partner, Duncan Free, and together they won the 2006 and 2007 World Rowing Championships. Leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games Ginn again suffered back problems. That didn’t stop him and he won another Olympic Champion title. A back operation and a break followed the Beijing Olympics with Ginn declaring he would make a comeback in the men’s four. The four took on the mighty British four to finish with silver at the London Olympic Games.
Ginn is well-known for his willingness to share his rowing ‘secrets’ as well as his outstanding rowing technique. Ginn is regularly used as an example of the ‘right way to row’.
Katherine Grainger (Great Britain)
The recent success of women’s rowing in Great Britain goes hand-in-hand with Katherine Grainger – the nation’s most successful female rower of all time. Grainger came into the sport as a university student and it was not long before success came her way.
In 1997 she was part of the first British women’s eight to win a World Championship medal. Moving into the women’s quadruple sculls Grainger’s crew picked up silver at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Thus began a string of Olympic silvers that served as motivation for Grainger to pursue the elusive Olympic gold. In Athens the silver was in the women’s pair, followed by silver in the quad at the Beijing Olympics.
Grainger’s determination paid off, and at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Grainger struck gold in the women’s double sculls (with Anna Watkins). This gold came on the back of an unbroken winning streak that began in 2010.
Through her rowing career Grainger has demonstrated her ability to swap successfully between different disciplines, including stints in the single, with a World Championship medal in this discipline.
The winner of the Thomas Keller Medal will be announced in early July and will receive an 18-carat gold medal. This year’s medal will be presented at the 2014 World Rowing Cup III in Lucerne, Switzerland in July. It will be bestowed by Dominik Keller, the son of FISA’s former president Thomas Keller.
The Thomas Keller Medal is the most prestigious award in rowing and is in recognition of an exceptional international rowing career, the ‘type’ of career, technical mastery of the sport, sportsmanship and the ‘legendary’ aspect of the athlete.
A full list of former winners can be found here.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Tim Koch writes:
Those of us who grandly award ourselves the title of ‘historian’ like to think that we are in constant pursuit of ‘the truth’ as if were some piece of buried treasure waiting to be dug up. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Perhaps the best known idea on the unreliability of ‘historical truth’ is that ‘history is written by the victors’. In a similar vein, Sir Winston Churchill held that ‘history will be kind to me – for I intend to write it’. Historical truth changes over time as, at best, it can only reflect the present or the dominant consensus. However, while truth may be difficult to establish, lies are (arguably) slightly easier to expose. I have spent the last few months working on a rebuttal of a very big and very entrenched lie in rowing history, that concerning the 1877 ‘Dead Heat’ Oxford - Cambridge Boat Race. Instead of producing a written piece, my intention was to make a video documentary for the internet. This I have done and the result may be viewed below. As I was nearing the end of the video production, I was very flattered to be asked to write a piece on the 1877 Race for the Official Boat Race Programme, the text of which is also below. I was restricted to a short piece of 700 words and I wrote it for a more general audience than HTBS readers, but I hope that it serves as an introduction to the 30-minute film.
From the 2014 Boat Race Programme:
1877: Oxford Won, Cambridge Too.
Tim Koch of the rowing history blog, ‘Hear The Boat Sing’, argues that the popular view of the ‘dead heat’ race of 1877 is a continuing injustice to the finish judge, Honest John Phelps.
In 2003, a thrilling Boat Race resulted in a win for Oxford by just one foot. During the post-race television analysis it was confidently stated that this was the closest of all the 149 races as the ‘dead heat’ of 1877 was, in reality, a six-foot victory for the Dark Blues. The viewing millions were told that this 126 year old travesty occurred because ‘the finish judge had been in the pub’.
That apparently inebriated official was a waterman, ‘Honest’ John Phelps, a descendant of whom is this year's Race Umpire, Richard Phelps.* Through the years, many other seemingly reliable sources have repeated and embellished different versions of this tale, usually adding that John was ‘asleep under a bush’ at the finish, only awakening to drunkenly slur ‘Dead heat…’ while adding under his breath, ‘…to Oxford by six feet’. Tellingly, different sources have Phelps giving almost any distance between four feet and ten yards.
‘Honest John’ became a music hall joke (‘Oxford won, Cambridge too!’) and ‘1877’ cast a long shadow over a proud Putney family that had served rowing well for generations. The tragedy is that the popular stories concerning John’s conduct were simply not true and, in the words of the Boat Race Official Centenary History, ‘....no good grounds have been shown for doubting the rightness of John Phelps’s decision’. Maurice Phelps, the family historian, adds that ‘...the (dead heat) decision was not only brave but almost stoic’.
None of the lurid tales about Phelps seem to appear in contemporary accounts, they ‘emerge’ at some later point. According to rowing historian Chris Dodd, it was only after the Blues had returned to Oxford, that they and the town ‘.... daily became more imbued with the idea that (they) had won’.
While no one suggests that there was a formal conspiracy, the idea that a working class professional could not be relied upon came at a very convenient time for those who were busy formalising rules to make amateur rowing the sole preserve of gentlemen and to rid it of ‘mechanics, artisans and labourers’.
Some sections of the press had made fools of themselves by prematurely declaring that Oxford had won. Reporters were not on the finish line but on a steamer behind the crews, an impossible position from which to judge a close race. Perhaps to save face, they produced stories that proved that they were not wrong, it was the finish judge that was incompetent or drunk or blind or not at his post. An ordinary working man had little chance to refute these accusations.
Investigation into John’s character shows that he was not a stereotypical coarse and roguish waterman and that the epithet ‘Honest’ was not an ironic one. According to Maurice Phelps, even in old age his articulate and physically fit ancestor ‘had a sound reputation in Thames rowing circles’. Further, he ‘collected works of art, commented on social conditions and ...... condemned animal cruelty’. Moreover, he did not smoke and drank only beer – but never at 8.50 in the morning, the time that the race finished!
Amazingly, finish posts were not thought of as necessary because, in the 33 races that had taken place since 1829, the closest verdict had been half a length. Phelps later told the umpire that the boats were essentially level with each one going slightly ahead – or falling slightly back – depending on their place in the stroke cycle. Without exactly aligned markers, it could not be judged whose boat surged ahead at the critical second to win. Thus, ‘a dead heat’ was the only legitimate verdict that could have been given.
Phelps did not take the easy and popular option of declaring for Oxford, the favourites, and for this he paid a high price. While it is more amusing to tell the ‘drunk under a bush’ story than to tell the truth, after 137 years it is time that Honest John Phelps received due recognition for his fair and courageous verdict.
*An update was made in this article on 18 April 2014 to reflect Comments No. 1 and No. 3 ~ GRB, ed.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Regular readers of HTBS will know that Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat is held in high esteem in both the USA and in Britain. This month (April 2014) sees the release of the latest edition of the book – in French. The cover is similar to that of the UK hardcover (published by Macmillan, 6 June 2012). I like the colour of this new edition, the picture is clearer and the gathering clouds behind the crew hint at the menace of the war – the gathering storm – that was only three years away.
The French title Ils Etaient un Seul Homme translates word-for-word as They were One Man. Admittedly, it loses something in translation, but rowing people will certainly know what the publisher is saying. When Brown was interviewing Joe Rantz about his experiences at the Berlin Olympics and seeking his consent to tell his story, Rantz insisted that the book should be about ‘the boys in the boat’. For sure he was no ordinary Joe.
The sub-title L'historie vraie de l'equipe d'aviron qui humilia Hitler translates as The True Story of the Rowing Crew that Humiliated Hitler. Of course, this is an attempt to convey the sentiment of the English sub-title, An Epic Journey to the Heart of Hitler’s Berlin, which is a little more subtle. Published in paperback on 5 April by La Librairie Vouibert, you can buy a copy here.
This is not the first foreign language edition of Brown’s book. Last year (25 July 2013), a Dutch edition was published in paperback. Translated by Joost Mulder, it is called De Jungens in de Boot – De Legendarische Acht Van 1936. Typically Dutch, it is understated and straight to the point, The Boys/Guys in the Boat – The Legendary Eight 1936.
The cover is very simple in design; the photograph of the crew on the dock is timeless and the addition of the eagle flying overhead is the only hint of Nazism on display. If a new rowing book in Dutch is your ‘kopje thee’, you can buy a copy here.
A British paperback edition of the book was published by Pan on 2 January 2014. This is a slightly revised to include a few corrections as suggested by the HTBS team. It also includes an additional photo of the Huskies in 1929 sawing a giant log as part of their training. This was spotted by Brown when he read last August’s book review by HTBS editor Göran Buckhorn. The first thing you notice with this edition is the wonderful velvety feel of the cover. The picture of the boys on the dock has been darkened; the blood red sky and the inclusion of the Brandenburg Gate draped in Nazi flags should broaden the appeal of the book to those with a general interest in the Second World War.
The American paperback is due to be published on 27 May by Penguin Books. At this stage it looks like it will have the same cover as the American hardcover published by Viking (4 June 2013). The photograph used on these editions is in stark contrast to the European ones. The crew is rowing, in warm-up routine, but there is no connection with Berlin or the Olympics.
If you’re still reading, you must be a real bibliophile! So for you, here are a few other editions to look out for:
Whichever edition you decide to opt for, remember this great book is a success story not only for Daniel James Brown but for OUR sport, whatever you call it! #Aviron #Canottaggio #Rámhaíochta #Remo #Rodd #Roeien #Rowing #Rudern
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Thick light made viscous
by the river
coated his oars
in the overcast
morning, the river
syrupy to which
to which the light adhered.
He pulled skowly
the oars through the syrupy
river, the light
thickening as he went.
The overcast morning pressed
against him, oppressed any attempt
at his rowing further.
His oars dripped syrup
as he lifted them
to lay them to rest
on his shell. He would float
where he would until
the oppressive overcast
cleared, the sky
so low he could reach
and touch the substance of it.
22 March 2014
Monday, April 14, 2014
Tim Koch writes:
Sadly, I suppose we should be grateful that someone who uses the Boat Race to make some political or philosophical point does so in a way that does not actually interfere with the race or which risks having their head removed from their neck.
One definition of ‘privilege’ is ‘an opportunity to do something regarded as a special honour’. An example of this would to be accepted as a student by Oxford or Cambridge Universities. I understand this is based on merit and examinations. Another example would be to get a place in a Blue Boat. I believe this is done by open competition – apparently quite fierce. It is true that the boats do contain a disproportionate number of people with a private education but, if this is a bad thing, it is symptom, not a cause. Also, it is reflection of the fact that, for purely practical reasons, access to rowing in state schools (U.S.: public schools) is limited.
Assuming that the banner was displayed either by, or with the permission of, the owner of the property, the said person clearly lacks a sense of irony. He or she owns a building worth in excess of a million pounds. It may look a little ramshackle but it is an artist’s studio/residence with substantial provenance in a desirable and sought after riverside location. Neighbouring (though admittedly more substantial) properties have sold for four million pounds. Perhaps it could be argued that the protester was a ‘privileged person’?
Returning to more traditional HTBS ground, the building in question actually has a significance to rowing.
The ‘blue window’ is regarded as the halfway point of the Championship Course, Putney to Mortlake (or visa versa). For over fifty years, until his death in 1988, it was the studio and home of the British poet and surrealist painter Julian Trevelyan and his wife Mary Fedden, also a highly regarded artist. Trevelyan’s view of the inside of his studio looking out is on the Tate Gallery website. A painting showing his studio home and Chiswick Eyot is here. The River and Rowing Museum has displayed some of Trevelyan’s works though I am not sure that it should have anything to do with someone who depicts oars like this. According to the Daily Telegraph of 18 May 2013:
For the Trevelyans (Durham Wharf) was home and studio, and the centre of a lively social life – the high point of which was their annual Boat Race party. All sorts of friends and acquaintances were invited to this ‘beer and buns’ jamboree over the years. Dylan Thomas, Stanley Spencer, Cyril Connolly and A.P. Herbert all attended....
In 1938, the studio was the venue for a famous ‘send off’ party for novelist Christopher Isherwood and poet W. H. Auden before their unlikely trip to China to observe the Sino-Japanese War. Evening dress was ‘optional’ and Benjamin Britten performed some of his and Auden’s cabaret songs. Attendees included many ‘Bright Young Things’, E. M. Forster and, according The Sunday Times, ‘some of the ghosts of old Bloomsbury’. Trevelyan recalled that it ended in ‘a bit of a rough house’ when poet Brian Howard and ‘bohemian socialite’, The Honourable Eddie Gathorne-Hardy started a brawl. Luckily, no one had to be at work the next day.
It seems that in the past, the studio saw ‘privileged people’ on both sides of the blue window.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Tim Koch writes:
The cartoon of 1881 that prefaced my piece on the University Boat Race yesterday (‘Different Views of the Event’) did not reproduce very well. Here it is again, with the captions reproduced and the picture in two parts to make it clearer.
The American: ‘I guess you British know nothin’ about rowing nohow’.
The Rowing Man: ‘Too much feather about the slide – Ah’.
The Idle Fellow: ‘What! Work like that ‘ere an’ get nothink for it? Well I'm blowed’.
The Frenchman: ‘Mon Dieu! They shall all catch their death of colds’.
The Little Man: ‘Glorious sport - just the thing I should enjoy myself’.
The Schoolboys: ‘Are you for Cambridge? Yes I am. Why’are yer? How should I know stupid’.
The Angry Man: ‘Glorious sport? Indeed – glorious tomfoolery I call it’.
Allowing for period humour, out of date stereotypes and possibly mild racism, these views of the race probably still exist in some form today. It is an event on which everyone seems to have an opinion.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Tim Koch writes:
I discovered long ago that, when following a rowing race in a launch, you can either take notes and produce a written report or you can take photographs, but not both. I took the photo option and have used the results to illustrate selections from Peter McConnell’s excellent Official Race Report (here in italics) published on the Boat Race website.
On an overcast day prone to squalls and with a strong south west wind blowing this was always going to be a test of technique as well as stamina.
Oxford won the toss and chose the Surrey station which would give them the advantage of the big Surrey bend a third of the way into the Race. Therefore it was Cambridge who would have the early advantage around the Middlesex bend after the end of the Fulham Wall. Off the start both crews sprinted off in the mid 40’s, Oxford taking an early lead.
As expected the crews were very close to each other with Cambridge warned by first time Boat Race Umpire Richard Phelps. The Light Blues used the bend to their advantage reeling in Oxford’s lead, hence as they passed the Town Buoy the crews were level.
With both crews at 35 Oxford began to exert their power, pulling out to a 1/3 length lead along the Crabtree Reach.
... shortly after the Mile Post, 5 minutes in to the Race, came the moment that effectively settled the result. Phelps had warned Oxford who now had a 3/4 length lead, they responded but Cambridge moved with them and as the Umpire issued a warning to Cambridge the blades of Light Blue 2 man Luke Juckett came into contact with that of Sam O’Connor the Kiwi in the Oxford 7 seat. Juckett was knocked out of his stride, crabbed and was nearly thrown from the boat. Oxford seizing the moment powered away as Cambridge floundered, missing five effective strokes. Worse, Juckett’s rigger was bent meaning his pitch was completely wrong so he could only make a negligible contribution to the speed of his crew.
At Hammersmith Bridge Oxford had an 8 second lead meaning they could choose their own water. They continued to pile on the pressure at a steady 33 strokes a minute and continued to move away from a demoralised Light Blue crew. Even with a strong headwind and rough conditions after Chiswick Eyot, Oxford’s progress was relentless.
At Chiswick Steps the Oxford lead was 16 seconds over 5 lengths, at Barnes Bridge 28 seconds and at the finish a massive 32 seconds.
Cambridge cox Ian Middleton raised his hand in protest after the finish but to no avail. Richard Phelps later explained, “I was concerned where Oxford were, so I warned Oxford and they moved immediately. A second later I was happy where the crews were but I then saw the Cambridge bow just twitch-in towards Oxford, so I warned Cambridge. The next thing there was a slight contact but the impact was great.” Talking about the Cambridge appeal he said that “Cambridge’s view was that when the foul occurred Oxford were not on their station. From my perspective Oxford were on their proper station; quite clearly. Contact could only have been in neutral water or at the worst Cambridge were off their station. I advised Cambridge I was overruling their appeal.”
The winning president Malcolm Howard thanked his crew and coach Sean Bowden for an amazing year. He felt the clash but “I don’t think it affected the outcome, we were moving really well, we’d withstood their big push early on and had started to take seats. We were moving on them and would have kept moving.”
The race is now on YouTube as is the last Women’s Boat Race to be held at Henley.
Photography © Tim Koch
See also "Images of the 160th Boat Race Part 1: The Prelude".
Friday, April 11, 2014
All the way down
from the country
he rode hopeful
past the cold
clear rills, past
creeks afroth with run-off,
toward the bay--
would it be asweep with light,
as he imagined it--
where he would meet the crew
with whom he would become
With them he would be
the rower he always was,
only more so, once he was
pulling oar in rhythm with them.
If asked, it was this
he would define as love.
(18 March 2014)
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Tim Koch writes:
Other reports on the 2014 Boat Race were rather conventional in that they all came out within hours of the event. Here at HTBS, we like to be different and so have waited several days before putting our take on the day online (nothing to do with me starting a new job). Part 2 will show the race, pictured from my very privileged position in the photographers’ launch.
London Youth Rowing sell home made cakes to raise money for new equipment.
Photography © Tim Koch
Coming up next – ‘Images of the 160th Boat Race Part 2: The Race’.