Last week on Seattle's Green Lake, more than 600 athletes gathered for the 13th annual Women's National Rowing Championships. They came from 58 clubs and schools to row with sweep oars and sculls, in singles, doubles, fours and eights. It was the largest women's nationals to date, and with good reason. In 1975 the U.S. women's eight won a silver medal at the world games in Nottingham, England; no U.S. women had ever even placed in this competition. And when Joan Lind won a silver medal in the single sculls at the Montreal Olympics it further inspired her sisters across the land. Now Green Lake was all but awash with world-class oarswomen, most notably in the single sculls, those tiny graceful boats, so frail and silent afloat, an unlikely blend of power and delicacy and always, it seems, about to tip over.
Lind, who won the singles in the last two nationals, was taking a year off from competition, and everyone at Seattle was wondering who her successor would be. Lisa Hansen of Lind's Long Beach Rowing Association was ready; only 23, she was runner-up in three of the last four nationals, and she had rowed in a quad—a four-sculled boat—in Montreal, had won bronze medals in a double scull at last summer's world games in Amsterdam and the three-mile sculling event at last fall's Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Mass.
At Seattle Hansen became involved in her second favorite sport—eating. In her Long Beach home is a poster that reads: IF YOU DON'T CHEW YOUR FOOD, NOBODY ELSE WILL. It was given to her by her former Long Beach coach, Tom McKibbon. While having dinner with her, he decided to finish his meal as fast as he could. He didn't tell her what he was doing. He came in second. One day last week, between inhalations of enchiladas and crepes with whipped cream and peaches Hansen spoke of a book she was reading. Small Is Beautiful, a seemingly perfect title for a single sculler. "And what is your favorite Scotch?" a friend asked, lampooning the Dewar's ad. Hansen only grinned, a grin that would grow neon-bright as the weekend waned. "And your favorite quote?"
" 'There's no easy way,' " she said.
"In reference to what?"
"To life," she said. "There's no easy way to do anything worthwhile, and if you find one you're probably not doing it right. It certainly applies to sculling. I've worked awfully hard in the years I've been doing it." Then she added in lighter vein, "But I never think of how I'm rowing, just how I look."
"I can tell you how," said her sometime coxswain and friend, Irene Moreno. "How?" Hansen said. "Vibrant and exciting," Moreno said, "persistent and deliberate...and racy."
"Was that rehearsed?" Moreno was asked. "Absolutely not," she said. "Some people are weak at 500 meters, and some in the finishing sprint, but Lisa has everything—a big surge at the start, a good strong stroke and concentration that never wavers."
At Green Lake, Hansen's concentration was on her competition, mainly 23-year-old Anne Warner, and on teeth. "We have this thing about teeth," Hansen said. "The shorter they are, the faster you can go, because when you go fast you grind them down." A friend asked, "Have you seen Annie's teeth? They're about this long," and she held two fingers about an eighth of an inch apart.
Warner's teeth, it turned out, were of normal length. She just displayed them a lot less than Hansen and her Long Beach friends, keeping to herself more, preferring the company of her little boat.