American Club Rowing Experience, Part 8: The Role of the Super-Sub

PBC launching at Henley Royal Regatta (Photo: Penelope Wrenn-Jungbluth)

Ah, the role of the "super-sub." Since it's more of a footnote to the Sydney win that didn't happen, the men's eight at the world championships in 1999 doesn't get discussed nearly as often as it should—on this side of the pond, at least. The video is riveting (watch it below), and the tensions builds perfectly in the USA-GBR duel. That lay-it-all-on-the-line move we see from the GB eight at 1,000m (and would see at roughly the same spot at the 2012 Olympics) is just great stuff, and of course a portent of what they would be capable of in Sydney the following year.



But the hero of that race is Tim Foster. British English has a rule that no title is silly if it's alliterative, so there he is, in seven seat; the Capital-S Super Capital-S Sub. He'll have his day defeating the Italians in the men's four the following year, and while the eight doesn't quite carry the day at St. Catharines, there's surely groundwork laid for the superlative wire-to-wire race they led and won in Sydney.

Much like Mr. Foster, your author has been subbing into the Thames eight for a week now. Was I the secret sauce that put us over the edge in scrimmages with a local high school last week? Am I now more likely to win the men's four at the Tokyo Olympics (can't really get any less likely, to be fair...).

It's a great gig, being super-sub—really the opposite of the "thankless job." The boat's been doing all this work to gel without you and if you don't screw that up for the technical row you get thrown into, you look like a jack-of-all-trades; you get all the fun of being in a well-drilled and sharp crew without any of the hard work of getting to that point. And of course, there's no pressure of actually racing!

On the other hand, there's no pressure of actually racing.

Your author did not make the top eight, and has come up with some really creative excuses for not being fast enough—I've never made a national team, but my excuse-making abilities are world class. But speed is speed and the goal isn't to try harder than the next guy, it's to go faster than the next guy, so here we are, me pulling super-sub duty.

"Potomac Boat Club’s President—a veteran of several Potomac Men’s Sweep trips to Henley Royal Regatta, most recently stroking in 2012—made it clear: a trip to Henley isn't one week long."

There are teams that I'm aware of where the 'team' is just 'the boat' or 'boats' going to this or that regatta. Maybe just San Diego Crew Classic, Independence Day, and Head Of The Charles—one eight, three races, that's it. There's a single-mindedness, a simple logic and efficiency of this approach that's appealing, but for better or worse that's not us.

The team expands in the summer, contracts in the winter; meanders a bit in the spring, is more focused in the fall. It allows us to try new races and new combinations pretty easily, and provides room to let new athletes audition and join and leave and come back. It also lets us make a team effort at The Big One, and for us that's Henley.

Potomac Boat Club’s President—a veteran of several Potomac Men’s Sweep trips to Henley Royal Regatta, most recently stroking in 2012—made it clear: a trip to Henley isn't one week long.

"...pressure reveals character, and when you're next to a crew capable of stealing seats back here and there, you'll find out who's got ice in their veins and who's got... what's the opposite of ice in this context?"

It's the year prior, and the year after. It's the week after when guys are at Henley Masters, and the weekend down in Charlottesville doing time trials. It's the hundred days spent fundraising and exceeding our stretch goals. It's the guys that come out for the team for the chance at Henley, and the momentum they and the team keep rolling long after the regatta.

So what to do then, if you're not in the boat?

There's fundraising, of course. The whole team got behind the effort—there was a fundraising minimum of $250 required to even be considered for selection, but even those who couldn't make the trip solicited support. This is guys that might not think they have a shot, or took one and missed, providing financial support on behalf of the teammates that beat them out—behavior that, as an occasional officer of the club and team, I'm quite proud of.

(These are also the guys who chipped in and kept my wife and me fed, thanks to a cooler of South Jersey's finest Italian food, through some tough days in our daughter's first month.)

And there's keeping everyone honest. A Thames eight or Wyfold four might look smooth in a vacuum, or confident pulling away from a crew it put a length on off the start, but pressure reveals character, and when you're next to a crew capable of stealing seats back here and there, you'll find out who's got ice in their veins and who's got… what's the opposite of ice in this context? Let's go with Campbell's Soup. Who has Campbell's Soup in their veins.

(Tell that guy to relax and just drive with the hips more, he'll be fine.)

"Maybe you've grown wise enough to not talk too much about your sport, and cultivate other cocktail party topics of conversation to more easily connect with people you meet and colleagues that have never gotten into a physical altercation over the validity of the CMax30 methodology."

The last and easiest thing to do is also perhaps the most important. It sucks to not be in that boat, but not enough to not clear my schedule to watch every second of every race in real time.

If you're an athlete on a team that competes you probably, duh, want to win. But consider for a second the fact that plenty of other people want you to win, too. Maybe you've grown wise enough to not talk too much about your sport, and cultivate other cocktail party topics of conversation to more easily connect with people you meet and colleagues that have never gotten into a physical altercation over the validity of the CMax30 methodology. But there's at least someone other than you that wants you to win.

Even colleagues or acquaintances that couldn't care less about your specific sport would at least prefer you to win.

My five-month-old prefers that I win. Not definitely; it's kind of hard to say due to her limited command of English. I'm at least certain she doesn't want me to lose. For now, that's enough, so long as she gets her neck control down and is ready for some 12-milers in the running stroller. She'll be at plenty of races, just not Henley, not this year. She'll be watching on YouTube with daddy. I'm not certain how she feels about me, but she definitely wants them to win.

-Peter Clements





Coming up next: The Schuylkill Navy Regatta and finishing touches. How do you have any sense of how fast you are, when everyone in your bracket is a crew you've never seen before?

Note: This series will be regularly published on Tuesdays between now and 2018 Henley Royal Regatta. View all posts in this series by clicking the label 'ACE Series.'


-RR

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