The Boys in the Boat: the real history behind George Clooney’s underdog sports movie (Jonny Wilkes, January 12, 2024, History Today)
A former rower himself, Ulbrickson pushed the University of Washington rowing crews extremely hard in training sessions, which took places as frequently as six days a week. He would chop and change the boat lineups, in search of the perfect team of eight, which caused a lot of consternation and uncertainty among the young students.
Yet he had an enviable pool of talent to pick from, and sage advice from expert boat builder George Pocock. The junior varsity crew, Husky, was soon outstripping the seniors.
They improved so much, in fact, that Ulbrickson made the controversial decision to enter his juniors into Olympic qualifying, to the chagrin of the traditionalists in the rowing world.
Rowing enjoyed immense popularity in the US at the time. Thousands attended each regatta, with many spectators standing on special observation trains that ran along the riverbank to ensure not a stroke would be missed. Newspapers hailed the Husky team who became known as the ‘boys in the boat’ – working-class kids taking on teams from elite East Coast schools – and covered their successes with relish, describing their motion as a “symphony of swinging blades”.
In 1936, they dominated the national collegiate rowing championships in Poughkeepsie, New York, and raced to victory at the Olympic trials in Princeton, New Jersey, becoming the first crew from Washington to represent the US at the games.