JD is on the captain of USC’s crew team. He has been racing for over two years now, and the sport has, in his words, “become my life.” Rowers are dedicated athletes that train every day at the crack of dawn. The sport is brutal on the body. J tells me that if he doesn’t puke during practice than he’s not going hard enough.
Races are intense affairs. They only last a few minutes long, and rowers are pushing themselves to the limit the entire time. As in any sport, competition is taken very seriously, and winning means everything.
But rowers have an interesting way in which they celebrate their victories. At the end of the race, the winning team gets the shirts from the team that lost. As J described it, the losers literally remove the shirts they wore during the race and hand them to the victors. “The other team is basically publicly humiliated by having to take off their clothes and give them to us,” J explains.
I think this is a very aggressive celebration that encapsulates the intensity of the sport. It’s almost war-like: the champions are claiming their spoils from the competition. It is very symbolic. The winning team goes home with a material memento that symbolizes the opponents they have defeated. And the losing team goes home with nothing but their (nearly) naked bodies. Of course, I am dramatizing the celebration a bit, but the way J describes it, and from what I’ve seen of their practices and get-togethers, rowers take their sport very seriously. The war-like attitude is very much a part of it. They yell throughout the entire race, and have various other pre-race chants to pump themselves up.
These celebrations are an important part of any sport. In our society, sports have replaced war and fighting as the main way that the lay-man proves his worth. In war, victory was clear because the opponents were literally dead. But in sports, athletes have created new ways to perform and recognize their victories.