‘Backsplash’: Rowing pundits put their oar in

Henley’s River and Rowing Museum, the venue for the 2017 Rowing History Conference, sponsored by radleypublishing.com Picture: © Jaap Oepkes/The River & Rowing Museum.

2 October 2017

Tim Koch makes a conference call.

Those who gather under the banner of Rowing History (HTBS Types, historians, academics, archivists, journalists, authors, bloggers, collectors, curators, geeks, anoraks and nerds) will know that the annual Rowing History Forum has alternated between the River and Rowing Museum (RRM) in the UK and the Mystic Seaport Museum in the U.S., past Forums being organised by the RRM, Mystic Seaport, the Friends of Rowing History and the National Rowing Foundation. This year, it is the RRM’s turn to host and it has rebranded the Forum as Backsplash: The Rowing History Conference. More importantly perhaps, the standard of the speakers for 2017 is particularly high, and I am sure that those invited to talk will not mind me saying that two of their number stand out in particular: one is a coach who has been in rowing at its highest levels since 1976 and who has at times been involved in controversy; the other is an author who has done the seemingly impossible, that is to write a bestselling book about rowing that appeals to those both inside and outside the sport.

‘The Boys in the Boat’, The University of Washington crew that, against many odds, won Gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The keynote speaker is Daniel James Brown, the author of the million plus selling book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (2013). HTBS readers will not need to be reminded of the book or its author, we have written about it enthusiastically many times, notably in Göran Buckhorn’s review and in my ‘afterthought’.

Usually, publishers’ hyperbole can be dismissed with scorn or laughter – but I will let this one pass:

Told against the backdrop of the Great Depression, ‘The Boys in the Boat’ is narrative non-fiction of the first order; a personal story full of lyricism and unexpected beauty that rises above the grand sweep of history, and captures instead the purest essence of what it means to be alive.

I just say that it’s a great read.

Daniel James Brown, here The Man Under The Boat. Picture: http://pocockclassic.org/pitch.html

There are two chances to hear Brown speak at Henley:

On Friday, 3 November, 18.30–22.30, there is a dinner with Daniel himself, preceded by a screening of a PBS Documentary that he inspired, The Boys of ’36to be shown in the RRM’s International Rowing Gallery. The film credits several HTBS contributors in its end titles, what greater recommendation does anyone need?

On Saturday, 4 November, 09.00–17.00, there is ‘a full day of curated talks from international experts on exciting and intriguing stories from rowing history’. Brown will be speaking from 10.50 to 12.10.

(I hope that no one confuses Daniel James Brown with the Da Vinci Code man, Dan Brown, a writer who is almost the antithesis of DJB in that his inexplicably bestselling books are badly researched and poorly written nonsense).

The venue for the screening of “The Boys of ’36” and of the 2017 Rowing History Conference – The International Rowing Gallery in Henley’s River and Rowing Museum.

The second star of the conference is perhaps as famous as Daniel James Brown – though only in the rowing world. Mike Spracklen has coached international crews for Britain (he was Steve Redgrave’s coach during his early Olympic career), the United States, Canada and Russia. Spracklen is notable for pushing his athletes to physical and mental extremes. While Olympic success has often resulted from this approach, some have said that it was not a price that they needed – or perhaps wanted – to pay. Conflict and controversy has resulted. It should be a great interview with a man who, now aged 80, knows and speaks his own mind.

The Spracklen Philosophy is available on DVD. A teaser is on YouTube.

In no particular order, the other speakers are as follows.

As a triple Olympic Gold Medallist, quadruple World Champion, stroke of the winning Oxford Boat in 2005, and a man who, after missing a season through glandular fever in 2015, made it into the winning GB eight in Rio in 2016, Andrew Triggs Hodge will have a good story to tell, even if he intends to deliver only a simple chronological record of his rowing career. However, Andy is another man who says what he thinks and in the past he has expressed critical opinions on the rowing establishment and the rewards available to those who give up a part of their life to achieve sporting success. Last March, he told The Daily Telegraph:

if rowing doesn’t get better at supporting itself – and its athletes – then we’re in danger of falling behind.

Andy Triggs Hodge with his second Olympic Gold, won at London 2012.

Peter Mallory is a winner of four Canadian and two U.S. National Championships, a former U.S. National Team Coach, a rowing historian, an art historian, and an author, notably of the four-volume, 2,500 page, The Sport of Rowing: Two Centuries of Competition. As befits a man with his resumé, he will be making two appearances: firstly to introduce Daniel James Brown, and secondly to speak in his own right. With his broad experience and knowledge, and as there seem to be few people of note in the rowing world that he has not talked to in depth, Peter’s choice of potential topics is huge.

Peter Mallory at the 2013 Rowing History Forum. Then, using his knowledge of art and of rowing history, he gave a fascinating analysis of the painting of the sculler, Edward Hawks.

Jeremy ‘Rass’ Randall is currently the Leander Club President and is a former Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames. A man steeped in rowing, he has a reputation as a very amusing speaker.

Jeremy Randall in the robes of the Master of the Watermen’s Company.

Lisa Taylor is a PhD student focusing on women’s competitive rowing in Britain since 1945, a much under-researched subject. Follow this future ‘Doctor of Rowing’ on Twitter @LisaTaylor1985 and read about her on HTBS.

Colleen Orsmond rowed for South Africa between 1995 and 2003. After working in events management at FISA, the World Rowing Federation, she joined Rio’s Olympic organising committee as ‘Rowing Competition Manager’, making sure that the venue met FISA’s requirements. She now has the role of ‘Sport Director’ with World Rowing.

The Master of Ceremonies will be Dr Robert Treharne Jones, erudite International Rowing commentator, Leander Club Press Officer and rowing historian. He will also chair a ‘Panel Discussion’ between the conference speakers.

The 2017 Rowing History Conference Ticket Options:

Friday Evening screening of The Boys of ’36 plus dinner: £48

Friday Evening screening of The Boys of ’36 only: Free (contact the RRM).

All of Saturday’s programme and catering: £55

Daniel James Brown’s Saturday talk only: £18

Full Conference Package, includes all events & catering on both days: £98

An exterior view of the RRM’s Thames Room, the venue for the conference lunch.

Click here to book tickets.

Contact the RRM at backsplash@rrm.co.uk or telephone 01491 415609 for questions or queries, reduced-price tickets for full-time students and concessions, and for payment by bank transfer or cheque or over the phone.

See you there!

One comment

  1. Hi Ro,

    If you could get the tickets that would be very helpful – and very happy for you to recruit one or more car loads. Perhaps the organisers would tell you how big the tables are and whether we can have one or more for Bewlers – or would you prefer just to mix it up and meet some new people?

    Coming back from Osteopath who is really pleased with how my back is coming along – light at the end of the tunnel!



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