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."
June 22, 1986
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 Né 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 6'4½" 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.
Other crews could come to Cincy, but they had to pay their own way. Among these, only Yale was given much of a chance, based on its showing over the first half of the Harvard race. That left "Wisco," as the Badgers call themselves, the odd men out in the six-crew final. Jablonic's party-crashers had made a deal with themselves, depending on their performance at the IRAs. "If we'd screwed up in Syracuse and finished out by three seconds or more, we would have folded up shop," said Jablonic. "But after the IRAs we knew we were strong enough to win. It was just a question of not pacing ourselves too much."
During the long drive to Cincinnati, Jablonic accidentally drove the team van over a dead animal.
"That's terrible," someone said.
"We're gonna deal with them just like that," someone else said.
Soon enough, the van encountered another dead animal. And another. "They decided they'd leave behind a wanton disarray of bodies [at Cincy]," said Jablonic, whose crew then christened its shell Carnage. "The first animal was either a raccoon or a possum. The second was a squirrel. The third was a skunk."
"We would not run over a badger."
In the final on Harsha Lake, Brown pulled out early and held a three-seat lead at the 1,500-meter mark. But the Badgers kicked into their sprint at 700 meters, and beat out Brown by four seats to win a trip to England's Henley Royal Regatta. "We knew when to take control," Jablonic said. "The badger is not a water animal, just a mean hillside one. But it can be rather ferocious."
When "Jabo" and Jane got together on Saturday, they were anything but ferocious. "Congratulations," said Jablonic. "I've won big ones before, and the first one is always special."
"I'm gonna miss you, Jabo," said Ludwig, as she and Jablonic got wrapped up in each other's lake-water-and-champagne-soaked selves.
As for Crazy Legs, he gets two pieces of deep-dish silver for the trophy case. And some peace in his office.