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Say cheese, Wisconsin
Alexander Wolff
June 23, 1986
Badger eights took both the men's and the women's collegiate titles
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June 23, 1986

Say Cheese, Wisconsin

Badger eights took both the men's and the women's collegiate titles

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Wisconsin athletic director and football Hall of Famer Elroy (Crazy Legs) Hirsch undressed a few defensive backs in his time, but no woman had ever walked into his office and taken her clothes off. Never, that is, until one day in 1980 when a Badger rower named Jane Ludwig led the women's crew in there to do just that.

Ludwig's motives were noble. She and her teammates were protesting having to share a locker room with the school's male rowers.

Wisconsin's men's coach Randy Jablonic had strongly objected when the locker room had first been divided in two by a canvas curtain—the athletic department's temporary solution. "I was fighting to retain what we'd developed since 1874," Jablonic recalls. "I agreed with the women in principle, but not at the men's expense." In time the women were given their own temporary quarters in the basement of a nearby dormitory, and now money is being raised for a new women's locker room. And last Saturday at the Cincinnati Regatta, a Badger women's varsity eight, coached by the same Jane Ludwig, and a Badger men's varsity eight, coached by Jablonic, gave Wisconsin matching national collegiate titles.

This was the fifth year that Cincinnati had hosted the men's collegiate nationals, but the first in which the women determined their champion at the same regatta. The women covered the identical 2,000-meter course as the men, though they took a little more time to do so. Said Washington coach Bob Ernst, whose Huskies had won the five previous women's titles, "We just have more chances to make up our minds whether we want to win or not."

Ludwig was filling in for Badger coach Sue Ela, who had left the team in midseason to have a baby, and she dedicated herself to making sure Wisconsin's senior-dominated eight would not have to mull over its desire to win. The Badger women's shell is named N� Pr�t (that's French for Born Ready), a near-perfect answer to Etes-vous pr�t?, the Gallic interrogatory that's part of the traditional starter's command. Said Ludwig, "We didn't want to say, 'Well, they're winning, so we'll start to row.' "

Alas, starting to row had been the Badgers' bugaboo all season, and Saturday was no different. After false-starting once, Wisconsin got out horrendously. Said Kathy Haberman, the Badgers' bow oar, "We were D.F.L. off the line." (The D stands for dead, the L for last.)

Radcliffe quickly grabbed the lead. A clipping from a Seattle paper, tacked to the wall of their boathouse, motivated the Cliffies. Next to a sentence in which Ernst had described the nationals as a likely battle "between Washington and Wisconsin," Radcliffe five seat Eleanor Prior had scribbled, "For second place." Indeed, Radcliffe had finished only three seconds behind Wisconsin in the Eastern Sprints in Kent, Conn., and but for a cox-box that went on the fritz early in the race, the Cantabrigians felt they would have won. At Harsha Lake, Radcliffe clung to its early lead and from the shore appeared to cross the finish line a whisker ahead of the Badgers.

The view from land was deceptive, however, and after studying a videotape for nearly 15 minutes, the judges declared the Badgers the winner. Thus the Wisconsin eight ended a 6-0 season, and Ludwig closed out an emotional weekend nursing a strange ambivalence. Ela will return to coach the Badgers next season, while Ludwig, having decided she can't go back to being Ela's assistant, will move on to coach the Smith College varsity. "It was hard on Sue to have the [maternity leave] situation," said Ludwig, who had brought all her belongings to Cincinnati because she wouldn't be returning to Madison. "But it was hard on me not to get the credit."

Among the several things one should know about rowing is that it so exalts suffering that participants wear T-shirts bearing such slogans as FIRST YOU DIE...THEN THE TERROR BEGINS. "It's asinine," says Jablonic, "to spend 4,800 hours of training for 48 minutes of racing." Another fact about rowing: On any given day a crew, through sheer effort, can atone for past mediocrity. One can't handicap a race as a horseplayer might.

The men's varsity race figured to be a five-way affair—with everybody but Wisconsin having a shot. Four boats received automatic bids and had all their expenses paid. Brown, winner of the previous week's Intercollegiate Rowing Association regatta in Syracuse, was the hot crew. Harvard returned most of the eight that won at Cincy last year, a crew that coach Harry Parker had called one of his strongest ever; the Crimson, after trying different strokes and different folks early in the season, had won their grueling four-mile annual race with Yale. Pacific Coast champion California brought a Schwarzeneggerian crew that averaged 6'4�" and 200 pounds and included an oarsman with the felicitous name of Brock Grunt. And Penn, which had tagged the Harvards with their only two losses of the season, were winners of the Eastern Sprints.

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