row2k Features
Life is a Metaphor for Rowing, Ch. 47: Eat, Sleep, Row
March 3, 2023
Peter Mallory

The closest any American rower got to the Moscow Olympics was buying this stamp!

But did anybody learn anything from the insanity of the attempted boycott of the 1979 World Rowing Junior Championships in Moscow? I'm afraid not. If only this were the end of the story . . .

In one of those cruel absurdities provided to us by a God with a sometimes morbid sense of humor, just a few months later the proverbial shoe ended up on the proverbial other foot. Anita DeFrantz herself became one of the most visible and vocal victims and critics of President Jimmy Carter's and the United States Government's boycott of the 1980 Olympics, also in Moscow.

For weeks you couldn't turn on a television in the U.S. without seeing her mournful face. But unlike Margi Fetter and Betsy Zumwalt in 1979, there was to be no binding federal arbitration to save Anita DeFrantz in 1980.

Oh, heartless fate!!! I marveled at the irony . . . that is when I wasn't crying for Anita and all the other innocent victim athletes on our 1980 Olympic Team, rowers and cyclists and gymnasts and swimmers and runners and jumpers and wrestlers and field hockey players, more than a few of them personal friends of mine! True story.

Needless to say, I did not vote to re-elect Jimmy Carter as President of the United States in November of 1980.

Anyway, denied her second and last chance at Olympic Gold by a boycott, Anita had to settle for eventually becoming Vice President of the International Olympic Committee, settle for becoming the most powerful woman in sport on Earth in all of history.

Absolutely true story. Couldn't make this stuff up.

* * * * *

But we have by no means finished the Ballad of Margi and Betsy. If all the negativity and frustration at home had not been enough, the two European regattas that the federation, in their infinite wisdom, has arranged for us to participate in are 1,000 kilometers apart, the distance from New York to Chicago. And so on the very morning after we fly in from the States we all must get up early and board a bus from Hazewinkel in Belgium to the Internationale Københavns-Regatta on the Bagsværd Sø in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Poster for the 1977 edition of our Danish Regatta
Poster for the 1977 edition of our Danish Regatta

Now that bus ride should have taken us no more than 12 hours or so - an already ridiculous amount of time for competing athletes . . . but in our bus it takes a full 24 hours - 7AM to 7AM - 24 hours there, and then two days later, 24 hours back! Oh, for Heaven's sake!

I remember the very nice bus driver introducing himself by saying in his lilting Belgian/French accent, "Hello, I'm Guy, just a guy." As in just one guy. There is just him! No way that would have been legal in the States!

By the time we got back to Hazewinkel at the end of the weekend, we were sleeping up to 18 hours a day. You know those t-shirts that say "eat, sleep, row"? That was us. We were dead meat in Belgium within five days of having triumphed in federal arbitration in Philadelphia.

At just about this time, USRA President Bill Hollenbeck telephones us in Hazewinkel - back when phoning Europe from the States was a very big deal - and he tells us he is generously arranging for us to travel by train to Moscow.

Say what?

By train? Wait a minute . . . isn't that something like the distance from the shores of the Great Lakes all the way to the beaches of the Pacific Ocean? What's the song say?

"It winds from Chicago to LA,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
. . . [musical interlude] . . .
Get your kicks on Route 66."

- Bobby Troup

And on a train? What? How many days and nights is that going to be? Are you effing kidding me?

I politely tell Bill I'll get back to him, check with the Canadian National Junior Team that we had been training with all summer, then wire back to Bill to say that we will be traveling by aeroplane, a jet in fact, with our neighbors from the Great White North, thank you very much.

So we take a taxi from our Belgian training site to the Soviet Embassy in nearby Brussels - it looks exactly like you think it should! - and with our signed and stamped visas tightly in hand, rejoin the rest of the U.S. Junior Team.

It's real now. After all this drama, our boat is actually going to Moscow.

So . . . are the other U.S. Juniors happy for us? NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! Absolutely NOT!! And that's final!!! They are totally pissed at us because they can't go to Moscow, too. Our feeble attempts to explain that we had gone through sheer Hell for seven long months but could only represent ourselves in the process falls on the deafest of ears.

We already know the USRA hates us. Now the rest of the U.S. Junior Team hates us, too, and when they reluctantly return to the States after our second regatta, the Internationale Roeiwedstrid in Hazewinkel, there is no goodbye, Godspeed and good luck for us. We are left quite alone and feeling unclean.

Incidentally, to this day on the comprehensive list of U.S. Team members on the internet, we are not acknowledged as having represented our country in Moscow. A bit of Russian history, you might say.

To be continued . . .

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