All Creatures Great and Small

The Badge of a Master of Sports of Russia. Thanks to HTBS, Grigori Denekin is the latest recipient of one of the Kremlin’s highest sports awards and entitled to use the designatory letters ‘MS’. Information: Fake News.

22 November 2017

Grigori Denikin MS, of the Soviet Ministry of Blogging website ‘Hear The Boat Sink’ (HTBSk), fills in for a busy Greg Denieffe and writes:

I am delighted but surprised to be invited back as a guest writer by HTBS. Thankfully, my slight criticism of your Soviet-era coverage in my article From Russia With Love: Pictures, Posters & Prints was taken in good grace and my superiors at the Russian Ministry were so happy that they had established a link to a great American website (other than those in Washington, D.C.) that they awarded me the badge of a Master of Sports of Russia.

At our recent All-Russian Sports Congress titled “Backlash”, one of the presentations was about a long-forgotten movie from 1945 that has a short scene of interest to ‘rowing-spotters’. Heavenly Slug (Небесный тихоход) is not a movie about rowing but should, I believe, qualify for inclusion on the HTBS list of Rowing Rarities alongside Forever After (1926) and Royal Regatta  (Королевская регата, 1966). In the original cut of the movie, between the third and fifth minute, there is rowing taking place in the background and the main action is interrupted by three women athletes (who are also pilots) carrying a sculling boat and a pair of sculls across the path of the main characters as they walk along singing a catchy Russian number. Two minutes may be too long to qualify for The Rabbit’s Guide to Rowing Films category of ‘Blink & you’ll miss it’ but neither does it qualify it for ‘Rowing in the Plot’, a plot described in Wikipedia as follows:

Major Bulochkin, senior lieutenant Tucha and captain Kaisarov – three pilots, officers and best friends – vow not to fall in love until the war ends. But their plans are ruined after they get in touch with a female aviation squadron and a pretty journalist, Valya Petrova. They start to give up one after another. At the same time, Major Vasily Bulochkin – a flying ace – is trying to adapt to his “new” machine (an old-fashioned and very slow biplane U-2) given to him after a serious injury.

It is an enjoyable movie, significant for its place in Soviet propaganda and the subtle inclusion rowing is part of that propaganda; as the saying goes: ‘Exercise muscles through sport; prepare your body for the fight!’ The film was shot in 1944-45 whilst the Second World War was still raging and released on 1 April 1946. It was the first Soviet post-war comedy and the production was a direct result of Joseph Stalin deciding that the country needed a light-hearted war comedy. God only knows what the militant atheist thought of the title. In any event, the movie pays tribute to the Soviet biplane the Polikarpov Po-2 and to the women known as the Night Witches who flew them.

Filming began near Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), just after the end of the Leningrad Blockade. The rowing scene takes place on Neva River and in the background the bomb-damaged Yelagin Palace can be seen.

A still from ‘Heavenly Slug’ with a coxed double scull, an imitation University Post, and the Yelagin Palace all visible in the background. Photo:
Rowing in front of the Yelagin Palace in 1824, two years after its completion. Photo:

The full black and white movie – no subtitles.

In 1970 the film was restored. As with many other films of the Stalinist era, it was redubbed, censored and about 10 minutes were cut out from the original. In 2012, the film went through colorization. It was also fully restored – this time with original scenes and voices.

The ‘rowing’ scene in glorious technicolour (between 3 min and 5 min).

Perhaps old black and white movies such as Heavenly Slug are not your cup of tea. Well, how about a bit of Heavenly Sculling? Back in September, the rowing website The Joy of Sculling posted an article, BEYOND THE CENTAUR about the great Vyacheslav Ivanov, winner of three successive Olympic gold medals in the single scull for the Soviet Union between 1956 and 1964. The author of the article, James Joy, writes about Ivanov’s sculling at the 1962 Philadelphia Gold Cup:

His sculling was a seamless blend between the fluid movements of his body and his fragile wooden shell. He had reached a superior performance of mind, body, and spirit. There was flow to his sculling on this particular day and his consciousness was in a high state of sensitivity and awareness.


In the 1980s I was able to secure a tape of Ivanov in training and his sculling was pure ballet as he moved effortlessly from stroke to stroke. His wrists were flat at the release, elbows moved in and out of the finish position fluidly, blades were kept close to the water surface, entry was quick and neat, and the shell ran level and continuously from stroke to stroke. It was a wonderful state of continuous water ballet. His movements were so refined and subtle.

Read the full article here and watch the video below.

Staying on a Heavenly theme, Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads:What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.’ But who, before now, would link rowing or sculling with slugs? The University of California Santa Cruz, that’s who!

The Logo of the University of California Santa Cruz Rowing Club.

The athletes that represent the UCSA are known as Banana Slugs and at one time they had a rowing (crew) club. The club is no longer listed on their website – it may have met its demise as a result of damage caused by the 2011 Tsunami. Follow the link in the above caption to watch a video of the destruction it caused to the club.

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