‘The Boys In The Boat’ True Story, Explained: Was Joe Rantz Inspired By A Real-Life Person?

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Directed by George Clooney, The Boys in the Boat tells the inspirational story of how eight working-class boys competed against students coming from elite backgrounds and not only made their way into the 1936 Summer Olympics but also won a gold medal for their nation. There is something very satisfying about a well-made underdog story. The film is based on a novel written by Daniel James Brown, and it is inspired by true events. At times, the story seems too good to be true, and had I not known that it is based on real people who actually achieved that feat back in the day, I would have never imagined that something like that was possible. I personally don’t know how those boys kept on moving forward when they had so much baggage to deal with. Everyone had their own struggles, and everybody was fighting to make ends meet. Probably, the lack of privilege pushed them beyond pain and made them achieve glory, but whatever it was, it was truly magical. On that day in Berlin in 1936, it felt like the arms and legs that were rowing the Boat had some divine power in them, and even if Poseidon had come to compete against them, they would have won.


Was Joe Rantz Inspired By A Real-Life Person?

As shown by The Boys in the Boat, the team consisted of Joe Rantz, Roger Morris, James McMillin, Johnny White, Chuck Day, George Hunt, Don Hume, and Gordy Adams. As George Pocock said, if perfection was actually a thing, then these eight boys were the closest to it. And then, to make it even better, they had a coxswain named Bobby Moch, who motivated them to the point that they believed that they could overcome any obstacle and turn things around from any given point. It could be said that through Joe Rantz, the director showed the kind of hardship they all had to face on an everyday basis. Joe’s life was hard, and his family actually abandoned him when he was 15 years old. His father married a second time, and he left with his wife and child, leaving Joe behind, not caring if he lived or died. Joe took up all sorts of odd jobs, and there were days when, even after toiling hard throughout the day, he didn’t have food on his plate. It was surprising how, even after facing so much, Joe had a desire to study more and make something out of his life. He was supporting his education himself, but there came a time when he didn’t have any money to pay the fees for his college. It was then that he decided that he would join the rowing team, as they offered the team members food and a place to stay. Joe did qualify the test and was chosen in the team. Coach Ulbrickson always knew that these boys’ desire to have a better life would push them to do something that had never been seen or done. And, as history tells us, he was absolutely right.


Did Ulbrickson send the junior team to Poughkeepsie?

It was a controversial decision, as we saw in The Boys in the Boat when coach Ulbrickson decided that he would send the junior team to compete in the Poughkeepsie championship. The university administration thought that he was out of his mind, but Ulbrickson knew what he was doing. It seemed like an imaginary conflict when I saw it in the film, but it did happen in real life, and Ulbrickson did stand up against the authorities and his colleagues as he was adamant about sending the team to the championship. As history tells us, Ulbrickson made the right call, and the junior team did win the championship. One could never imagine that these amateurs, who didn’t even know how many people were there in a team, competed against the people who had been practicing for years and still won against them so convincingly. Ulbrickson literally put his entire career at stake because something inside him told him that they would miss out on a genuine opportunity to win a gold medal in the Olympics if these boys weren’t sent to Berlin.


Did Don Hume fall ill?

It is true that Don Hume fell ill during the preliminary qualifiers for the 1936 Olympics. He was suffering from some respiratory problems, as he used to work in a pulp mill back in the day. He almost fell unconscious during the race, but probably it was Bobby Moch’s motivating words that kept him going. Bobby Moch played a very crucial role in the scheme of things, and he had a knack for changing the strategy at the very last moment. At times, he also knew that if it didn’t pay off, he would have to face Coach Ulbrickson and be answerable to him, but he trusted his instincts. The players believed in Bobby Moch, and his motivating speeches inspired them to the point where they could win the mental and physical battles.


Did Ulbrickson’s team win the Olympics?

The unthinkable happened during the 1936 Olympics, and Ulbrickson’s team did win. It was the era of the Great Depression, and the rowing team of the United States of America gave the people of the nation something to cheer for. Had they been asked in the beginning, they would have laughed at the prospect of being selected to represent their nation in the Olympics and, moreover, winning it. But what they had was truly magical, and what’s even more commendable was that they had all sorts of issues going on in their personal lives. I don’t know if Joe actually saw his father or not, but what I am sure of is that there would have been a lot of times when adversity would have gotten the better of the players. There would have been times when they would not have felt like doing anything. They were coming out of a deep and dark abyss, and it was not easy for them to deal with everything. But they kept moving forward and creating history.

In 1931, a book was written by James Turslow, in which he coined the term American Dream. But it was only after the victory of 1936 that the people realized what it actually meant.


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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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