Directed by George Clooney, The Boys in the Boat shows that miracles happen and that there are certain emotions that can make a man defy logic. Something extraordinary happened in the 1936 Summer Olympics, and coach Al Ulbrickson’s “junior team,” which people didn’t believe could win even the inter-university championship, went on to conquer the world. I don’t know what went through the minds of those eight people sitting in the boat, but it was something truly magical. Movies that document a particular event or the life of some sports personality always run the chance of overdoing things, especially when it comes to the execution of crucial moments and make everything look very superficial and dramatized. But George Clooney refrains from that vice and keeps it simple, yet he does not miss out on having the desired impact or evoking a feeling of empathy in his audience. So, let’s find out how Coach Ulbrickson fought for his team and how the American contingent went on to create history.
Why did Joe join the rowing team?
Joe’s mother had passed away when he was very young, and his father had left him when he was 14 years old. He found it hard to make ends meet, but he believed in himself, and he knew that he would one day find a way out of the mess that he was in. He was studying engineering, and to support his education, he used to take up all sorts of odd jobs. But there came a point in his life when he had no money and had to pay the second installment of his college fee. He was given a 2-week notice, and he was told that if he wasn’t able to pay it, he would have to look for some other institute. That was the time when his friend told him that the junior rowing team of the university, called the Washington Huskies, was having a tryout, and they wanted to select people from the lot. Joe had no interest whatsoever in the sport, but he was told that he would be paid a handsome amount and that he would be given a place to stay there, too. Joe saw coach Al Ulbrickson and Tom Bolles for the first time, and they told the boys that they would have to go through the toughest physical regime of their lives, and after the grueling test, eight of them would make it to the team. Joe worked hard because he needed to put food on the table. He attended college simultaneously, and when he had some time on his hands, he used to help George Pocock, who was building the boat that the team was going to ride. Joe made it on the team, and still, more than feeling proud about the fact that he would get to represent his college, he was happy that he wouldn’t have to toil every day for survival.
Why did Coach Ulbrickson select the junior team?
Coach Ulbrickson saw his team rowing, and he realized that they were probably better than the senior team, and they actually stood a chance of winning the Poughkeepsie Cup. The catch was that whoever won the Poughkeepsie championship was going to be sent to represent the United States in the summer Olympics, which would be held in Germany. Coach Tom Boles told Ulbrickson that he was digging his own grave and that the federation, and the university authorities wouldn’t allow that to happen. Ulbrickson knew that it was the best team he had seen in his entire career, but at that moment in The Boys in the Boat, he needed validation. He went to George and asked him if he was doing the right thing or if he was sabotaging his own career. George told Ulbrickson that back in the day, he saw him rowing, and he felt that if he had eight members just like him, then it would become a dream team. Obviously, that couldn’t happen, but now, looking at the current team, he realized that this was the closest they could ever get to perfection. George told Ulbrickson that if his team failed, then the axe would fall on him, but that was the risk he would have to take. Ulbrickson made up his mind, and surprisingly, even coach Tom supported him. The junior team was selected after a lot of struggles, and they went to fight against all the senior teams that were taking part in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association.
How Did Ulbrickson’s team win the Olympics?
As mentioned in the beginning, nobody knew that they were going to witness a miraculous feat in the Poughkeepsie championship. The junior team won the championship, and Ulbrickson’s decision to send them to the Olympics was not well received by the people. Still, Ulbrickson stuck with the decision because he knew that these eight people were exceptionally talented. They were all working-class people who found it hard to earn a living, and when they rowed, they did so as if their lives depended on it. It was a battle of the privileged class versus the ones who had to fight at each and every step of their lives. Joe saw his father in the town, and he was surprised to find out that he had been there for the past two years, but still, he didn’t try to meet him even once. The emotional baggage and trauma he carried from his past started troubling him, and there came a time when he was not able to focus on the race, and Ulbrickson told him not to be a part of the race if he came with that mindset.
It was George once again who came to his rescue, and he told him that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that he was on the verge of creating history. Before leaving for Germany, Joe had expressed his love to Joyce, and she told him that she wanted him to be his life partner. Joe was lucky to find a girl like Joyce. He had a crush on her in the fourth grade, and the letter he gave her back then was still kept safely on her table, which made him realize that even she adored him. After having a conversation with George, Joe realized that he couldn’t let the ghost of his past life come in between his missions. He went to Ulbrickson the next day and told him how much he wanted to be a part of that contingent and make his country proud.
During The Boys in the Boat‘s ending, the American rowing team, through their zeal and hard work, created history and won the gold medal at the Summer Olympics of 1936. It was a surreal moment for each and every team member to realize that they had fought the odds and done the impossible. Coach Ulbrickson’s name was etched in history, as had it not been for him, the junior team would have never been allowed to participate in the Olympics. I believe at times, adversity does create heroes, and people might have said that the lives of those eight people changed overnight, but only they knew what they went through and how it was a miracle in itself that they stood the storm and didn’t let their spirits get bogged down.