Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat, 2013
Directing the proceedings was a slim young man toting a large megaphone. Tom Bolles, the freshman coach, was a former Washington oarsman1 himself. With a bland, pleasant face, a bit learn in the jowls, and given to wearing wire-rimmed glasses, Bolles had been a history major, was working on a master's degree, and had a distinctly scholarly look about him − a look that had spurred some of Seattle's sportswriters to begin referring to him as "the professor". And in many ways, the role that lay ahead of him that fall, as it did every fall, was that of an educator. When his colleagues in the basketball pavilion or on the football field first encountered their freshman prospects each fall, they could assume that the boys had played the sport in high school and knew at least the rudiments of their respective games. But almost none of the young men assembled outside the shell house that afternoon had ever rowed a stroke in his life, certainly not in a vessel as delicate and unforgiving as a racing shell, pulling oars twice as long as the young men were all.
Most of them were city boys like the boys lounging up the quad − the sons of lawyers and businessmen − dressed neatly in woolen slacks and cardigan sweaters. A few, like Joe, were farm boys of lumberjacks or fishermen, the products of foggy coastal villages, damp dairy farms, and smoky lumber towns all over the state. Growing up, they […] had built up strong arms and broad shoulders doing so. Their strength would be an asset, Bolles knew, but rowing − he understood as well as anyone − was at least as much art as brawn, and a keen intelligence was just as important as brute strength. There were a thousand and one small things that had to be learned, mastered, and brought to beat in precisely the right way to propel a twenty-four-inch-wide cedar shell, carrying three-quarters of a ton of human flesh and bone, through the water with any semblance of speed and grace. Over the next few months, he would need to teach these boys, or those few among them who made the freshman team, every last one of those thousand and one small things. And some big ones as well: Would the farm boys be able to keep up with the intellectual side of the sport? Would the city boys have the toughness simply to survive? Most of them, Bolles knew, would not.
Another tall man stood watching quietly from the broad doorway of the shell house, dressed impeccably, as he always was, in a dark three-piece business suit, a crisp white shirt, a tie, and a fedora, spinning a Phi Beta Kappa2 key on a lanyard he held in one hand. Al Ulbrickson, head coach of the University of Washington rowing program, was a stickler for detail, and his style of dress sent a simple message: that he was the boss, and that he was all business. He was just thirty − young enough that he needed to draw a line of demarcation between himself and the boys he commanded. The suit and the Phi Beta Kappa key helped in that regard. Il also helped that he was strikingly good-looking and built like the oarsman he had been, the former stroke oar of a Washington crew that had won national championships in 1924 and 1926. He was tall, muscular, broad shouldered, and distinctly Nordic in his features, with high cheekbones, a chiseled jawline, and cold slate-gray eyes. They were the kind of eyes that shut you up fast if you were a young man inclined to challenge something he had just said.
1 Oarsman: un rameur en aviron
2 Phi Beta Kappa: a university students' club
Nine UW rowers who showed up Hitler in 1936 and won gold
Ninety-year-old Jim McMillin runs bony fingers over the cedar bow of the Husky Clipper, which reclines in the Pocock Rowing Center on Lake Union.
"That boat never lost a race," he said.
Neither did those in it. […]
Certainly, war was brewing in Europe as the Huskies boarded a steamship in New York with the rest of the American Olympic team for the eight-day trip to Hamburg, Germany.
"We didn't care what was going on around us. We had a job to do, and that was win a race," said Bob Moch, the coxswain of the UW crew. "We were a pretty directed bunch." […]
Moch, McMillin, Morris and Joe Rantz, who rowed No. 7, are the survivors of the crew, all at or near 90 years old. […]
Aging and anonymous as they might be today, the UW rowers were the talk of the state in the 1930s.
"I was 13 years old, and it was the biggest thing that had ever happened in Seattle," said Stan Pocock, the son of George Pocock, who built the Husky Clipper. "They might not have been aware of the significance of winning a gold medal in Germany at that time, but people back home were." […]
Today, national teams, not colleges, represent their countries.
The guys from 1936 don't much like the notion of rowers training full time into their 30 s to be members of national teams.
"We had lives to live, jobs to do," McMillin said. "We were amateurs."
Besides the six engineers, Day became a doctor, Moch an attorney and Hume an international business consultant.
In which country does the scene take place?
What do Tom Bolles and Al Ubrickson have in common?
Focus on Tom Bolles and Al Ubrickson. Compare their physical appearances.
Focus on Tom Bolles and Al Ubrickson. How do people perceive them?
Focus on Tom Bolles and Al Ubrickson. Compare their respective roles.
True or false.
- Joe belongs to the upper class.
- The scene takes place in a high school.
- The scene takes place nowadays.
- Al Ubrickson is quite attractive.
- Al Ubrickson is a middle-aged man.
How many sports are mentioned in the text?
Which one has been the least practiced so far by the young men?
In Bolles' opinion, what are the qualities required to succeed in this sport?
To which sporting event does document B refer to?
What do most of the characters present in the text have in common?
Are they all still alive?
In what ways are documents A and B related?
Focus on Bolles (document A) and Bob Moch (document B). Do they seem to agree on what is needed to succeed in their sport?
Document A: "Would the farm boys be able to pick up with the intellectual side of the sport? Would the city boys have the toughness simply to survive? Most of them, Bolles knew, would not."
What does this reveal about Bolles' personal opinion as regards these boys?