Group SexThe Six
I freely concede that this could have gone under Erotic Couplings, Romance or possibly even Loving Wives; feel free to make up your own mind.
There are a small number of sports videos that are a part of history and shared all over the world; one result of the sharing is that many people falsely claim to have "been watching" and seen the experience as it happened. One of this group of videos is only ever called simply "the end of that rowing race", and dates from the 202x Olympics. Although it was broadcast around the world as it happened, because of time zones and the racing timetable, probably no more than 50,000 people saw it live — although I know for certain that so far it has been watched well over three billion times. It is on public record that the next race that particular crew was involved in was watched live by a TV audience of well over 200 million and later viewings bring the total up to at least twelve times that figure so far.
In my last story, I explained how by a number of episodes of the most awful sort had left me widowed, childless and orphaned in the space of a few short weeks. It seems almost grotesque to talk of a bright side, but one result was that I also became very well off, and in a surprisingly powerful position.
Pretty well everyone in this nation knows of the Ewen Company, and that it is based in the small city of that name. It is also common knowledge that as it prospered in the late 19th century it diversified slowly, carefully and successfully, and was also the main stimulus and benefactor in the founding of Ewen University. Not so many people know that the first two generations of the Keynes family, who founded and first grew the company, were remarkably shrewd judges of character.
They devised a permanent and unbreakable web of ownership, the result of which was and still is that shares are held by the family, a charitable foundation and employees only. They also laid down some permanent yet wise rules about how all staff would be recruited and assessed, for both company and University, and this has resulted in both concerns being hard to get into but extremely positive and supportive all the time you are there. The employee turnover rate is always the lowest of any company worth above $ 500 million in the world, and the University's student satisfaction surveys set benchmarks that make the trustees of other places weep. It also helps that the University's research is often tailored towards the company's needs, and there was and is a great deal of secondment and mutual cooperation. One happy result was that the company earned steadily, enough to diversify into profitable new areas as they came along, and both the University and the city benefitted.
Fortunately (?), as it is rather remote and out in the hilly wilderness, there has been very little physical growth for either concern over the decades and the quality of life has stayed high. Also, the founders were very specific that the University would never have any political or religious buildings, courses or activities, official or unofficial, and so not only had much time-wasting pettiness been avoided over the years but also the place was never off-putting to talented people from minorities. Given the quite rural setting, with a number of lakes adjoining or close by, the University had had a small but successful rowing club for some decades. You will remember that was where I had come in, being recruited as a senior coach before — literally — marrying the daughter of the boss and then being widowed and … everything else.
My own place in the corporate hierarchy was 100% secure but a little vague, given that I was now — in theory anyway — both a significant shareholder, a founding-family member, a Foundation trustee and an employee. It was all getting a bit too overlapping for me to be completely comfortable, and trying to make sense of it all for any length of time brought back the faces of those I had lost.
I did some thinking, and then proposed to the rest of the board – who had all felt at least some of the losses personally and had therefore been both sympathetic and helpful – that I take leave of absence from my general admin duties for about 12 months, then come back part-time for maybe 6 months before moving to full-time. During this time aside from things, I would just be a rowing coach, no more.
As I said, I had more money than I could ever spend of my own, plus (although this was not generally known) I could also have as much extra as I wanted paid away by the Ewen Foundation if it was "in a good cause", just with a phone call.
A project to do with sports research had been slowly forming in my mind, and I finally resolved that this would be my route back to the real world again. At this point, there was almost exactly two and a half years to go to the next Olympics. Phase One would be to track down and mesh together all existing research by rowing coaches who had proved themselves winners. Phase Two would be to use this knowledge to select and train a crew for the next Olympics. Luckily, by now in my coaching career I had a good stock of names and numbers in my book of contacts.
The first part of Phase One was easy to complete, primarily because there was not a great deal of written material. This shortage meant that part two, to distil it all into something useful, was pretty awkward as there was no body of evidence pointing me in any special directions. About the only thread that was clear, however, was that the mental strength of the crew was crucial. The rest I would have to adapt and improve as we went along.
As a part of this theory-research, I did put out feelers within the University, and got to know a small group of specialists — a couple of engineers, a specialist psychologist/hypnotist, a weather researcher/forecaster, and the best sports doctor on the whole site. I already had the scholarship admin team on my side, and it only needed two 'phone calls to arrange for the Ewen company charitable trust to make enough available to the University for the endowment of four new scholarships … the recipients "to be advised" by me.
On to Phase Two. My biggest success of all was in identifying and approaching a small group of female rowers who had all raced internationally as under-18s or under-23s, were about to graduate from their different universities, and were probably feeling a bit adrift and unattached. I met each of them individually, usually in secret, and gave them all the same speech. I was very proud of myself when all my top four candidates accepted my probably weird-sounding offer involving a generous scholarship to Ewen U and a crack at the Olympics. The speech covered approximately four main areas:-
The overall aim was obvious and consisted of only the one target. Implicit in this, of course, was a set of important milestones — the crew would have to qualify for the Games, for example.
Academically, they all knew the University's tip-top reputation. The facilities at the rowing club were excellent, and I hinted that my budget was very generous — I did not let on that it was for all practical purposes infinite. I did not need to go into any detail about how I had arranged scholarships specifically for them.
Commitment was not negotiable, and had to be complete. It would also be the case that as well as signing-up to the crew they had to do so to me as well, and be prepared to follow my guidance, not least because I was trying something special that I had formed out of my research (and guesswork, although I did not use that word). I undertook to explain the logic behind all my proposals as and when necessary, because I needed them to buy-in to ideas which would at times be asking a lot of them. Luckily, I did already have a quite respectable CV of wins and leadership.
Finally their input and feedback would be absolutely crucial, equally as important as a readiness to be open and honest at all times with the rest of the crew. It would also be essential that they spoke up to challenge whenever they felt something amiss. As any good coach will confirm, you get nowhere with a team full of sheep. I mentioned the other group members' name at this point, and they all had enough experience to realise that they were not being asked to join a group of muppets.
The paperwork and discreet calls took a time, but come late August that year, they moved into dorms and began their studies. You need to know who was involved.
Hart was studying a quite specific area of law, to do with pharmaceuticals, in collaboration with Ewen's Medical R&D side. She was exceptionally logical and articulate, although she could take it all maybe a little too far sometimes when sympathy and silence might have helped more than a crack of the verbal whip. By agreement between the four of them she was the (nominal-only) crew captain, as all crews are required to have one designated person to answer official questions when they were on the water; again, for clarity only, she was the one who called any special tactics during a race.
Parker and Victoria were often referred to as the Twins, as they were identical heights, had attended the same school, rowed in exactly the same powerful style, and matched each other in performance. They sat one behind the other in the middle of the boat and formed our powerhouse. The thing was, though, that apart from height they looked completely different.
Parker was maybe 5kg heavier than Victoria, mousy-blonde and rather pale. She was generally our ray of sunshine, quite happy to follow direction as long as she could see the reasoning, and always ready to help after-hours if one of the others was having problems.
Victoria was slightly broader across the shoulders, and darker; in summer when the UV began in earnest, she quickly darkened further. She was more — for lack of a better word – combative than the others, and maybe a little too ready to take offence, but you would be very grateful to have her by your side in a close race or a bar fight.
Because Parker and Victoria knew each other already they roomed together, as they had done at their previous university, but they were certainly not attached at the hip and often linked-up with the others in twos and threes for off-water activities.
Brook was our fount of knowledge. She had studied results, race tactics, biographies, geography, water flow, river conditions, weather, power ratios, physiology and diet since about age 14, and could probably also have built our boat from a few planks of timber by the time I met her. She was the quietest, but also the best "rowing-thinker", and always but always worth listening to. She had the best "feel" for the boat, too, and so quickly took over the bow seat, where she steered extremely competently.
My one big potential problem would have been clear to almost anyone. Four people filling four places does not leave room for sickness or injury. Further, if I recruited a fifth to the group then not only would there be bitching and crapping about who got left out of the final selection, but of all the candidates I had first identified the fifth choice was a good way below the first four in terms of skill, experience and maturity. Touch wood I had a solution for this.
Chelsea was — is — about four years older than the others. Although we originally knew each other to nod to, it was not until I bumped into her on a riverbank that we got to talking for the first time. This was shortly after her 9th place in a single at the Olympics that had taken place a month beforehand, and knowing my background she mentioned that she was "hacked-off" with her coach, feeling that he had not brought out her best performance. She was looking for a new person, with a different take on things, who would be more innovative plus more accepting of her input and ideas.
I asked if she fancied coming to Ewen University, where I had arrived not long before, and she could be a doctoral candidate with some teaching duties. Not that I had planned it that way, but a by happy coincidence I already knew of a couple of vacancies going begging and had also become friendly with the Scholarship Administrator (who happened to love rowing). Chelsea and I had been working together on the water for maybe 3 months before I met Alexandra (the two of them soon became the very best of friends); less than a year later Alexandra and I married, and not so much longer that my world went so very badly wrong.
Chelsea agreed with my thinking about a back-up crew member, luckily, and at an early stage I presented her to the group, explaining that a) she was the Permanent Reserve — not a challenger for a place in the crew – and/but b) she would be rotating into the boat at times to variously give us feedback, cover for injury, help her own training and to keep us all thinking about how the boat moved and what settings and seat arrangements worked best. Needless to say, she would be going for Olympic selection in her single at the same time as the four. Chelsea's rowing CV was of course well known, and this was all accepted willingly.
She easily settled into being one amongst equals, but I did become aware a couple of times that she had been a source of "big-sister" type advice about – let's just say wider aspects of life. It was she who early on persuaded them all to synchronise their cycles so that training would be most efficient and they would be racing at peak fitness — one day she simply handed me a marked-up calendar and suggested that I ease off the workload on those small but regular batches of days she had highlighted.
Some may say that there was a case for me not to get too worried if a bit of niggling was present sometimes, as a completely happy group does not develop and stretch itself as well as one with some tension around. The downside to this argument was that we were working to a very specific and demanding timetable, with fixed dates, and some bad luck or bad timing might derail things. I therefore insisted that they talk to each other in a group, with or without me, before any problem grew too big. As I have said, they are all very bright girls. Luckily, they had all learned by the time I met them that the crew is bigger than one person, and fully understood how they needed to co-operate and encourage each other. After they had settled-in to their new lives they did quickly grow together, and although we did not live in each other's pockets I often saw them around the campus in different pairings chatting away like the close friends they had become.
They already had a few spare-time interests and activities, but I encouraged them to dabble in the University's physically-active groups, to see if they could acquire the odd extra little scrap of fitness, flexibility or simply inner peace and perhaps pass it on to the others. I recall that ballet was the most appreciated activity.
You need to know that female athletes at this level are without exception well-muscled and flexible, and know how to look after themselves much better than their male equivalents. The result is that if they start off as even slightly attractive, by the time they are at peak fitness they can often look quite stunning. All my little group had been lookers when I had first become aware of them maybe 3 or 4 years before, but by the time of the start of this little saga they had toned up, filled up just enough in the right places and all looked quite gorgeous. They were all five over 6 feet — the Twins were maybe 6-3, Hart 6-4, Brook 6-2 and Chelsea 6-3.
All had short hair — at most over all our time together a short pigtail might appear, but these never lasted long, and they invariably all raced in baseball caps anyway. The other thing that you'd notice was that they were between A or a mid-B cup — there's a sort-of attrition process going on whereby as girls grow and fill out they often find their new curves getting in the way — so the great majority at the highest level of competition are not what your mother would have called "well-blessed". If you ask most guys about rowing girls' butts, far and away the most usual word would be "big". Possibly, but hey guys, take a good look at one. It will be solid with muscle, and carry no extra padding. Think about it – as that area has to transmit all the power being generated into the boat to make it move, it will have been worked on for hours to make it efficient, flexible and strong. And also — think what condition all those pelvic muscles are in …. can only be good.
Not that any further improvement was required, but they enjoyed the ballet classes, which they all took regularly if not every single week; this gave them not only a healthy, upright posture but flattened their tummy muscles and generally gave them a sense of both mental and physical self-confidence.
Part of the pact was that they would have control over their health, and I had already "arranged" for Dr. Parr, the second most senior medic — who also had a number of extra qualifications in sports injuries – to be permanently on-call for them and to cover every type of problem.
As a result of my discreet planning early on, it was arranged that a Mr. Abingdon would donate a special scanner to the medical centre; in much the same way a Ms. Burford would sponsor the purchase of an electron microscope for the Engineering Department, Mrs. Clifton looked after a — something incomprehensible (but very pricey) for the weather forecast unit, Mr. Derry helped to equip the psychiatry test lab, and so on. Not bribery in the legal sense, of course; let's just say it's easy to do favours for people if you're not lying awake at night wondering how to find a shedload of money for your next must-have bit of kit.
Training for the most part fell into two types — land training with weights and/or machines, which I quickly found I could leave them to organise within a plan I set, plus at least 10 sessions a week on the water; as a famous coach once said, "Mileage Makes Masters". We were lucky at the club, as the lake consisted primarily of two long channels set at 90 degrees to each other, so if on any day the wind was blowing down the one arm we could plough up and down on the other.
As part of the training, and — of course – by agreement, we planned for the crew to have a small number of tricks up their sleeves. A couple just involved almost-silent vocal signals to signify a rate or speed change, which could be used or not as required. We also trained specially — when there was nobody around to see us — so that they developed a Big Last Push, when they went for it completely to get the fastest finish possible. If you think about it, this could only be used maybe once a year, or oppositions would get to recognise it and so be able to plan against it.
We also agreed between us to learn a few techniques of self-hypnosis; to let us calm ourselves quickly, to get to sleep, to concentrate on the task in hand, and so on.
Fast-forward through many months of successful training to the national Olympic Selection Regatta, two months before the Olympics. Actually, there had been no element of selection involved for a couple of decades after a major bribery and favouritism scandal. Qualification for every boat size and type was now in the format of one tournament over a weekend, on a 6-lane 2,000 metre course, entry open to any crew, with no seeds but also with no second chances for race losers. The winners in each event would go to the Olympics. End of.
Our racing competitions — especially in the second year – had been few and far between, and well-chosen for various reasons. Part of my — our — overall strategy had been to try to suggest to the world that we were rather more up-and-coming than was the case, so that we would not be subject to a lot of scrutiny and clever-clever tactics from other clubs — or even from other countries. We therefore raced at about 6 or 8 regattas each year, and although we won almost all the events it always appeared to have been against the odds, and/or by small margins. Often, if a heat was "two to qualify" we would deliberately go for the second slot.
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