row2k Features
Helpful Hints for Journalists Covering Rowing
April 12, 2005
Rob Colburn

Some of the most vibrant writing and phrases derive from sports. How much richer our verbal palate has become from phrases such as "full-court press," "suicide squeeze," or even the "the whole nine yards," which in fact isn't a sports analogy at all, but rather refers to contents of a cement truck which carries 9 cubic yards- hence the expression. Rowing too has its colorful language and idioms, but -- because rowing doesn't get the coverage other sports get, those idioms do not surround us from childhood, or enter our language in the same way as those from other sports. The journalist assigned to cover rowing may be left staring at the notes from an interview trying to figure out what on earth the rower or coach was talking about.

In an effort to help journalists, and -- hopefully to boost coverage of our sport -- this column is intended as a guide to the beleaguered sportswriter, or caption writer, facing a looming deadline.

First, some things to avoid: "Crew team" is redundant, because a crew is a team. The phrase slips into speech, even among the most careful of us, but is better left out of writing. "Rowing team" is a semi-okay substitute, but "row team" is to be avoided. Describing an athlete as "anchoring" a team may be a compliment in relay sports such as track or swimming, but to describe a rower as "anchoring the boat" is anything but. "Coxswain," (sometimes shortened to "cox"), is the noun; "to cox" is the verb. "To coxswain a boat" is gibberish, which may be what the cox is saying, but we won't go there.

Good rowing technique avoids splashing in the same way that a skilled diver does, so describing a rowing program as "making a splash" or "making waves" is likewise not a compliment.

A sculler friend got himself featured in a beautiful picture in the local newspaper. One of those atmospheric early morning shots so beloved of photo editors and poster vendors, complete with mist, reflections of the hull in the water, and a line of smooth puddles stretching back from his oars. The photo caption was "Rower Dedicated to Making a Splash." At the boathouse, we ribbed him about this public commentary on his technique -- until he informed us (in the nicest possible way) that, if we brought the subject up again, he would punch our heads in.

"Oarsome" might be pithy and original…but only for the first 786 times it gets used each season.

"Paddling" in crew describes a state of relaxed rowing (as opposed to being "at pressure" or "at race pace"). Recently, a headline described, "Tham Paddles to Women's Singles Gold." Since this was the Vietnamese national championships, one suspects she was going a lot harder than just paddling.

Spell-checkers, stumbling over the unfamiliar rowing terms, can spell disaster. "This summer, we plan to go as far as NC State for a duel [sic] meet." (Apparently, dueling is still legal in some parts of North Carolina.)

Animal mascots can lead to some wonderful visual imagery: "Huskies Sweep Beavers in Vancouver" (wait until the World Wildlife Fund finds out); "Badgers Take Head of the Elk" (who got the rest of the carcass?). "Wildcat Rowers Shine in Sunflower Classic" calls out for a van Gogh painting. "Depth Accumulates for Hungry Gophers" (sooo, that explains the holes in the lawn!). "For Panthers, Facing Temple [the Owls] Is No Hoot." "Cougar Rowing Contributes to Holiday Season" a story about volunteer community service by a crew, also conjures up pictures of large, wild felines festively out in a boat together.

I love that there is a Cox High School, and that their rowing program is Cox Crew. Hope the Cox Crew Cox gets a special t-shirt.

Prestige address: "Capital Rower at Home Behind Oar."

Then there are those headlines and captions which just get away from us: "Scullers Go the Distance in Showcase" (must have been a bit cramped; perhaps they found a way to stick the oars out through the glass); "Crew Charts New Course." And in restaurant rowing news: "Synners in Penalty Row in Top of Table Clash." (FISA rules specify that -- if you interfere with another boat between the soup tureen and the main course -- you have to row an extra lap between the salt shakers.)

And that favorite caption/headline, "Row, row, row your boat"? Please, not ever.

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