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Posts Tagged ‘sporting’

Much is still unclear about the 2012 Boat Race. First and foremost, we don’t yet know how Alex Woods is; the latest we’ve heard is that he’s been taken away in an ambulance, and everyone’s thoughts are of course with him. We don’t yet know who the rogue swimmer was, nor what he was doing in the water (a protest, one assumes, or perhaps just a head case). And then the disaster of the blade clash and Oxford’s brave decision to keep rowing despite the certain loss that was facing them (one commentator suggested that they should just stop in order to save face).

What we can say with certainty is that the Boat Race 2012 will go down in history, and not for all the right reasons. Much will be said about the swimmer and about the umpire’s call over the blade clash, and I’ll not go into that as the pundits will have more than enough to say on the subject later on.

There were two things that stuck in my mind, though. The first was Cambridge’s initial elation after what could only be described as a hollow victory. Of course they could be forgiven for being delighted with a win, whatever the circumstances; they’d worked phenomenally hard for a year and dealt with a difficult and stressful race with courage and strength. And yet I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as they whooped and splashed and stood up in the boat and generally carried on as if it had been a normal win in normal circumstances. Perhaps, with my history of losing races, I identify too strongly with the unfortunate losers (and I’ll confess I’m an Oxford girl myself, so am bound to be a bit partial), but given the interruption and restart when Oxford were ahead and looking like they might well win, coupled with the fact that (whatever the merits of the umpire’s decision), Oxford had been a man down, it still felt a bit wrong. Not quite cricket. Certainly not quite Henley.

But the second thing that struck me was the speed with which they adjusted their behaviour when Oxford’s bow man, Alex Woods, was lifted out of the boat, clearly in trouble. Their smiles soon became muted and their celebrations dignified. Woods’ crisis reminded everyone what was really important. It’s a shame that we need a man being taken away in an ambulance to remind us what matters most, but at least it did. Sport, after all, should be sporting and the Boat Race should epitomise that. Oh, and to prove that I can practise what I preach… Congratulations, Cambridge; commiserations, Oxford; and get well soon, Alex.

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“So you sprint to the end. The winners come back here and the LOSERS will be PUNISHED! Because it’s all about WINNING and rowers want to WIN!” This rather alarming tirade was part of a circuits seminar for rowers that I went on this weekend. Alongside the useful instruction on core stability for rowing and new ideas for circuit training, some rowing psychology was thrown in for free. The central philosophy is that to be a successful rower you have to be ANGRY.

“You have to be able to look over at your opponents in the next lane”, sneered our instructor, curling his lip, “And think, ‘I’m better than you’. You have to be able to EYEBALL them, to FACE THEM DOWN!! If you can’t do that, you’ll NEVER be a WINNER!”

Now I’ll be the first to admit that my rowing career to date has been less than illustrious. My shelf is still standing empty, waiting for that first pot. In the eyes of the circuits instructor, I would no doubt be classed as a LOSER who ought to be PUNISHED.

Yet I don’t think my lack of success to date has been due to any lack of determination or grit. I’m known in the club for my terrier-like tenacity when it comes to pushing to the limits. I might have the poorest erg score but I have one of the stoutest hearts. I want to win and I hate losing. But that kind of macho posturing that means glaring at the opposition and jostling club members for a place in the boat leaves me cold.

Perhaps it’s my legal background. My fellow lawyers and I could walk into court, chatting away about mutual friends and what we had for lunch, but as soon as the judge processed in, the gloves were off. We’d be fierce opponents, fighting our case to the bitter end. Then we’d revert in the blink of the eye to friendly banter as soon as the case adjourned.

The same goes for rowing. I’m happy to chat to my opponents before the race starts – and often a bit of friendliness can pay back if you need an bit of leeway because someone’s doubled up – but as soon as we’re on the water, it’s war.

Maybe I’ve missed the point. Maybe if I tried a bit of shouting and aggression I’d find myself in the winning crew. But at what cost? Rowing, for me, is still about being sporting. So you can keep your angry talk and your punishments. If you meet me at a regatta I promise to be friendly. If that makes me a loser, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

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