THE SHELL GAME: Reflections on Rowing by Stephen Kiesling

THE SHELL GAME: Reflections on Rowing

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Some deft, illuminating glimpses of an obscure sport--weighted down by a close view of the class-ridden, adolescent traditions of Yale athletics. Kiesling was a member of the 1978-80 Yale crew; in his senior year, as a Scholar of the House, ""my mission was to spend the year training for the 1980 Olympics and to write a thesis on the philosophy of sports."" Though Kiesling made the Olympic team, the team didn't make it to Moscow; and he had no perspective at the time, he acknowledges, to discuss relationships between academic matters and rowing. What he presents here, then, is simply ""a story about rowing at Yale."" Kiesling, a non-athletic Californian, chose rowing as a way of being socially-acceptable at tradition-bound Yale. He eventually became attached to the sport, and excelled at it; and he does convey some of its allure. Oarsmen have much in common with other serious athletes; but rowing differs in its extraordinary energy expenditure (all the major muscle groups are used) and in the predominance of team-effort. In other team sports, individuals still perform to their own limits; in rowing, ""one performs at the level of the crew."" The turn-off is the enveloping atmosphere of Yale athletics and the Old Eli anecdotes (the ritualistic treatment of freshmen; the revved-up competition--especially with Harvard; the custom of collecting the losing teams' shirts). Also unconducive of sympathy is the shabby treatment of Yale's championship women's crew (which hardly disturbed Kiesling, though his sister was a crew-member). With descriptions of rowing's most important races (the English Henley regatta, among them), this does provide a nice look at the ""strange and wonderful sport"" of rowing--offset, unfortunately, by what Kiesling found to be ""the equally strange and wonderful traditions of Yale University.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow