April 29, 2004

The Right Advice

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In 1977, a documentary film crew followed the exploits of a group of professional body-builders as they trained for the title of Mr. Olympia. The cast included many famous personalities, such as Mike Katz (a former member of the New York Jets) and Lou Ferrigno, who would later go on to become The Incredible Hulk.

But the star of the show was 28-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, the five-time reigning champion, soon-to-be Hollywood action hero, and future Governor of Cal-ee-forn-ee-a.

During one of the interviews, Arnold is asked about fellow competitor and training partner Franco Columbo, who is favored by some to win the Olympia title. Since they trained together, has Columbo learned the secrets of Schwarzenegger’s dominance? Arnold leans back in his chair and cracks a wide smile: “Franco is smart, but Franco is a child. And on the day of the competition, I am his father. So it is very easy for me to give him the wrong advices.”

And so, Pumping Iron begat a sports column, and we saw that it was good. Or, if not good, at least intermittently amusing.

I chose “The Wrong Advices” as my moniker mainly as an inside joke to be shared amongst the members of the varsity crew. It has become something of a tradition (and a sick, twisted one at that) to watch Pumping Iron on the bus during road trips. Over the years, several individuals, primarily members of the women’s team, have voiced their displeasure with the movie and have insisted on the destruction of the video tape. Before we left for Pittsburgh and The Head of the Ohio last October, Commodore Chris Bender’s copy went mysteriously missing. Though never proven, I suspect foul play.

There are any number of other reasons that make “The Wrong Advices” a perfect title for my little corner of the sports page. As many people have expressed to me (both through email and, for some reason, on elynah.com), my “advices” are continuously “wrong.” I’ve really enjoyed all the hate mail, especially since the letters have reassured me that I possess a considerably more advanced grasp of the english language than do their authors.

But let’s get back to Ahnold’s quote. I’ve never beaten my father in anything. As a kid, I’d lose in chess, cards, and every boardgame under the sun. Even now, at my physical peak, he and his 49-year-old knees routinely trounce me in racquetball. I’m a Division I varsity athlete; he’s an engineer. And, seriously, the score is never even close.

As a male, you always want to beat your dad. And your dad will never let you win. It’s like that scene in The Great Santini when Ben starts winning a game of one-on-one basketball and Robert Duvall proceeds to foul the kid into bloody oblivion. There is an unspoken dominance that our fathers have over us; this is why Arnold told the cameras, “I am his father.” He knew that as good as Franco was, there was no way that he was going to lose.

Athletes dream of that sort of edge. We lift weights, run sprints, and erg until our legs fall off so that we can, in the words of Schwarzenegger, “crush the opposition and move forward without any hesitation at all.” When you beat a worthy adversary so soundly that he knows deep down in his heart that he never had a chance in hell of winning, well, there are few instances more satisfying in this life. It is a slow-drip IV of ego stuck directly into your vein that no drug can duplicate or surpass.

But make no mistake, it must be a “worthy” adversary. There is no honor in ganging up on the little guy. No, I’m referring to all the times that athletes circle a date on their calendars, the teams and individuals that make them wake up in the middle of the night and run a few miles (in Pumping Iron, Lou Ferrigno would shout “ARNOLD” in between each rep of the military press).

And when that special day comes and you win, your foe is a child and you are his father.


I have stood on that edge and felt its power. There are a group of Princeton rowers whose souls belong to me and my teammates.

In the spring crew season of 2002, I earned a seat in the JV boat as a sophomore. We always thought the classification of “JV” to be an insult, as we routinely whipped the Varsity boat during practice (causing our coach to juggle the lineups around almost daily). We preferred to be known as the “2V.”

We rowed a beautiful German shell, made by the Empacher boat works. You can see a ‘Pacher coming from a mile away — the entire hull is a bright banana-yellow. Yellow — the color of insanity.

Such a craft fit our personalities perfectly. One of us had a penchant for crashing into things while in a shopping cart; he would later go on to draw an enormous phallus in the snow encasing Cayuga inlet. Our bowman was from Niskyuna, NY (which should tell you something) and resembled Beaker from The Muppets in both manner and appearance. Unfortunately, those are the only descriptions I can mention without totally destroying the reputation and tradition of Cornell Rowing.

The 2V cut a wide swath through the EARC that year, and we found ourselves undefeated coming into the Carnegie Cup regatta against Yale and Princeton. The Tigers were also undefeated and were ranked ahead of us in all the polls. The race was to be on their home course, where they knew the all the secret habits of the water and every key landmark along the 2000 meter course. They thought they were going to destroy us, the heathen punks from Cornell (perhaps only in rowing can one attend Cornell and be considered “blue-collar”).

I can still tell you every single detail about that April morning, from the species of birds singing above our heads as we rowed toward the starting line to the colors of the flowers dotting the shoreline. Never in my life have I ever been so in tune with every passing moment; each second, each stroke, each breath of precious oxygen was its own history.

The first 1300 meters were back and forth between Princeton and ourselves, with Yale falling out of contention after only a few strokes. I could feel the black Tiger shell off to my right and knew that they were overstroking us. Princeton was rowing at around 36 strokes per minute; we were at around 32 and a half. By all the laws of physics, Princeton should have been pulling away from us with every stroke they took. God knows, they were certainly trying. But they didn’t budge.

With 700 meters left, Mark (our coxswain) called us to move. Move. MOVE. And we did. It was as if Princeton was locked in concrete. In the space of five strokes, we had turned an even race into a rout.

In desperation, Princeton sprinted to ever-increasing rates. 38 spm. 40 spm. 45 spm. We sprinted to 35 spm and only increased our lead. They could have rigged up a sail and would have lost to us on that day. If God Himself was stroking their boat, still they would have finished second.

I have never been a part of a more dominating athletic performance, and doubt that I ever will. The Princeton rowers we defeated that day proceeded to fold like accordions each of the next five times we raced them. Some of them graduated last spring having never avenged that loss, just as sons eventually give up playing racquetball with their fathers. I have deed and title to those eight souls; they will always be children and I am their father.


The great thing about writing out a “thank-you” list instead of reading it at an awards podium is that there’s no orchestra to play you off and make you speed through the last 46 names. This way, people just stop reading. It’s much less embarrassing…

…I’d like to thank everyone who has read my articles, especially those who let me know how much they liked them. What I write is meaningless without you.

…Thanks to the entire staff of the Cornell Daily Sun, especially Managing Editor Freda Ready for teaching EJ and I about “rucking.” If you hated my column, blame Alex Ip for believing I was good enough to write it. Thank you, Scott Jones, for disagreeing with me over my Todd Bertuzzi article and for being a tolerable Yankees fan. God bless you, Owen Bochner, for trying t
o keep us in line. Kyle, EJ, and Chris — the future of this rag is in your hands.

To: Matt Janiga From: Per Ostman In Re: The Writer’s Bloc

Thanks for using MY IDEA (that I stole from espn.com) as your Senior Editor project. And for giving me Jeremy Schaap’s phone number. You’re the best.

…I’d like to thank the inhabitants of 504 Thurston Avenue for letting me fall asleep on the couch nearly every night while watching SportsCenter.

…Go Sox!

…John and Susan Ostman deserve their own wing in the “Thank You” museum. I love you guys.

…I need to thank Scott Conroe for not giving up on me, even when my writing was the best thing I had going.

…Thanks to the men’s basketball team, particularly Steve Donahue (for putting up with my questions) and Ka’Ron Barnes (for returning all my phone calls).

Remember Ka’Ron, after you make it big and are ready to write your book, give me a call. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Cody Toppert, who is the best quote this side of Charles Barkley.

…Huge thanks to the women’s soccer team. Shannon Fraser’s mother is adorable and deserves her own sports column. Thanks to the coaches for letting me watch, the captains for answering all of my questions, and to the goalkeeper for letting me score on her.

…To say simply “thank you” to coaches Dan Roock, Dan Allen, Todd Kennet, Herb Gottfried, John Douglas, and Andy Belden is not enough. It sounds like a cop-out to say “I cannot describe in words the impact that these individuals have had on my life over the past four years,” but that’s the truth of it. If I had to go to war tomorrow, there’s no one I’d rather have next to me than the Danimal, if for no other reason than to have someone to be court-martialed alongside. In all seriousness, my best qualities exist because you, Big Dan, and the rest showed me the way. You set the standard to which all those who teach young men should aspire.

…Finally, I’d like to thank Kevin Barnes, Chris Bender, Dan Fronhofer, Mark Harrison, and John Lipiros. It is a gross understatement to say that I will never find men with more character, passion, and couRAGE. It has been the greatest honor of my life to row with you, and to be your friend.

Per Ostman is a Sun Senior Writer.The Wrong Advices has appeared every other Thursday this semester. This is his last column.

Archived article by Per Ostman