Drinking & Rowing

In the entry on 14 April, R.C. Lehmann On-line, Tim Koch writes about Lehmann’s Rowing from 1898 and some entertaining text parts in this book. Under ‘Training and Diet’ we can read about what and what not to drink if you are in training at the turn of the century. Lehmann writes,

Note—Once or twice during training there is a “champagne night,” when champagne is substituted for beer or claret and water; but this only occurs when the crew have been doing very hard work, or when they show evident signs of being over-fatigued, and require a fillip.

And Tim rightly comment this, “The inclusion of alcohol at all is very strange by modern standards.” However, to my big surprise, I found that 50 years later, the Cambridge coach, Raymond Owen, gives the same advise in his little book or pamphlet, Training for Rowing (38 pp.), which was published in 1952. Owen writes under the title ‘Food; Alcohol’:

“This should be limited completely to beer, claret, port and champagne. Beer – half a pint with lunch and one pint with dinner […]; Claret – Not more than two glasses of claret can be allowed with dinner occasionally […]; Port – Not more than two glasses of port should be allowed at dinner occasionally, and must be limited to certain occasions, such as the end of a hard week’s rowing […]; Champagne – This should be used even more occasionally than port, but is definitely helpful if given at certain times. It can be allowed at dinner following some particularly big effort, and especially if there is any sign of ‘staleness.’ “

Owen also adds, “It must be remembered that the only real value of alcohol to the body in training is a psychological one […]”

In the Acknowledgments, Owen thanks the Cambridge crew of 1951, “who acted as guinea pigs.” The 1951 Cambridge crew beat Oxford in The Boat Race with 12 boat lengths!


  1. When the professional sculling and pairs champion John Biglin was coaching Amherst College and Dartmouth in 1872 and 1873, he enforced a strict training diet that included mutton, which was most pro-rowers’ preferred meat. Then, a week before the race, Biglin switched his boys to eggs and stale bread. And, now banning milk or coffee, they had to drink weak tea, and “all the pale ale they wanted.” Cheers! Bill Lanouette (Biglin biographer)

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