Deja Vu: Trollope on Rowing

It is certain that rowing is by far not a popular sport.  If I were to inquire with a close friend and ask him, have you seen a rowing race, or perchance, have you encountered an oarsman?  I warrant that he aught to say no to both questions.   The races are not best for looker-ons because one’s eye can spy about 500 meters of a race unless one is prepared enough to have brought himself binoculars or is biking down a race course with a cajole of coaches alongside clamoring like fools who placed their bets on the wrong horse.

Be it what it would, The Head of the Charles is an exception.  Every October since 1954, the preeminent oarsmen have come to challenge each other in thrilling, tight-scratch races. The race fetches in 400,000 looker-ons and 11,000 oarsmen to Boston, MA.  By and by it is the largest rowing race in the entire world and one of the most exhilarating.  Throngs of spectators horde the streets and the seven bridges above the course to watch a tight scratch pass by or underneath them while vendors yelp about their famous “clam chowda” like they were prepubescent newspaper boys.


Populous bridge of looker-ons over the Charles course.

At the premier Head of the Charles Race in 1965, oarsmen raced along in heavy wooden shells, the swiftest technology of the time.  On April Fool’s day last year, the wiseacre regatta directors proclaimed that for the 50th anniversary race, everything would recreated as it was like in 1965.  The only boats deemed legal would have to be constructed of wood and only vehicles produced in 1965 or earlier were to be admitted on the premises.  Luckily, it was just a clever gull and having old boats and cars was not necessitated since doing so would be a bit of a scrape since wooden boats are difficult to come by nowadays.  Rowing’s close neighborhood does not lack in their risibility so there was no vexation over the trick.

Comparison of wooden racing shell to carbon-fiber racing shell.

Comparison of wooden racing shell to carbon-fiber racing shell.

In present-day you catch sight of rowers sweeping their oars down the course in boats devised out of carbon fiber with delicate honey-comb style interior to diminish the weight of the boat.  The changeover in material and pruning of the boats’ weight has fabricated a momentous increase in swiftness.  Hence, the winning time of the Men’s Championship Single in 1965 was 20:24.0 for the 5k race and the winning time in 2013 was 17:12.313.  Both racers are probably fine lads and of similar talent and skill but the difference in racing equipment makes for their difference in speed.

Not only has rowing changed in the equipment used, but also has gone from being merely oarsmen but to oarswomen as well.  In fact, The Charles was first open for women to compete in 1969, four years after the men’s races began.  And the participation of women has even surpassed the participation of men’s at the collegiate level which is certainly due to the fact that rowing became a NCAA sanctioned sport in 1997 and enjoys more than 7,500 oarswomen participating at the university level.  We may wonder, why would the sport be of interest to so many women?  I may perhaps assume that the sports popularity largely stems from it having the most scholarships for a women’s sport and the second most in regards to men’s and women’s sports, behind football’s offerings.  With the possibility of a university scholarship and chance to boast about being a Division 1 athlete, rowing has increased in popularity immensely through the addition of ladies to the sport.

At length, with more oarsmen and oarswomen, the sport has become exceptionally competitive.  The University of Michigan Women’s Rowing Team had merely nine practices a week in the 2013-2014 year (if you are not a sportsman you may be graveled by the thought of this much physical exertion), but after their counterpart Ohio State inflated their amount of exercise and won NCAA’s for the second time in a row, all teams have responded by increasing their exercise and the Michigan team currently practices eleven times a week.  Hence, when one team increases training, others are complaisant and willing to do the same in fear of the prospect of losing.

Michigan Women racing at the Charles.

Michigan Women racing at the Charles.

The Michigan Women’s team had a strong showing at the 2014 Head of the Charles and placed second out of all collegiate boats.