The Last Amateurs by Mark de Rond
Release date: 11th November, 2008
Publisher: Icon Publishing
Our Price: £8.09
You Save: £8.4 (50%)
The Last Amateurs
To Hell and Back with the Cambridge Boat Race crew
By Mark de Rond
4sportsbooks.co.uk price: Â£8.09, saving 55% on rrp
In recent years, the Boat Race has become the only university sporting event capable of producing international-class athletes, most of whom could walk straight into national teams.
At any time, around one third of most British men's rowing teams comprises former Boat Race athletes. While sponsorship and lottery support have made an enormous difference to athletes in the national team, the Boat Race provides no direct financial benefit, ensuring that rowers may rightly claim to be the last amateurs.
Oxford-educated Mark de Rond follows the lives of the exceptional group of rowers who form part of the 2007 Cambridge crew during the six months in which they prepare for the varsity contest.
It's an ambitious, but nonetheless interesting project that succeeds in pulling him further into events as well as the personal lives of his subjects.
De Rond starts by examining the motivations of this elite group of men: what, he wonders, drives them to endure the hardship and sacrifice of the most intense competitive pressure. Later he notes the inevitable battles for selection; the equally inevitable disappointments; the spartan existence.
He appreciates the essentials required of any top-class athlete: their drive and desire paradoxcally coupled with an underlying need for an espirit de corps. Eventually, the final eight are selected, but only after 20 or so others have been cast aside.
The final Cambridge crew included five world and Olympic medallists (three of them gold), which made them the most star-studded eight to grace the Boat Race for many years. Nevertheless, while they eventually won, it was by barely more than one length, a performance which says as much about Oxford's courageous efforts as it does about those of the successful eight.
By the time the final eight are selected, de Rond has given himself a leading role in his story and in fairness, he is called upon to help resolve disputes and on one occasion is given responsibility for chairing a critical meeting.
Perhaps this focus on his involvement with the team caused a serious omission, for following the event, it transpired that one of the most vital members of the Cambridge boat was, in fact, ineligible to compete as he had not completed an academic course at Cambridge. He left as soon as the race was complete to join the German national team. This was in violation of one of this amateur event's few rules - that competitors are bona fide members of the university.
Despite this, de Rond provides a fascinating insight into the machinations of a race now 180 years old; he succeeds in making clear that while technically amateurs, the men who row in the Boat Race tackle everything with a rare sense of professionalism.
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