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Crew Teams Need Unity Amidst Diversity

Boys in the Boat is the thrilling true story of the 1936 University of Washington crew team, which went from backwater obscurity to a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Few sports carry the aristocratic pedigree of crews from Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. But no one imagined that a crew from Washington, of all places, could be competitive. And yet author Daniel James Brown shows how the University of Washington built a team from kids raised on farms, in logging towns, and near shipyards. They blew away their Californian rivals and bested the cream of New England to become the American Olympic Team and won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

This ragtag team of Americans won Olympic gold by maintaining a sense of unity amidst diversity. Here's how Daniel James Brown explains how eight individuals of varying statures, physiques, and personalities capitalize on their diversity:

[Races] are won by crews, and great crews are carefully balanced blends of both physical abilities and personality types … A crew composed entirely of eight amped-up, overtly aggressive oarsmen will often degenerate into a dysfunctional brawl in a boat or exhaust itself in the first leg of a long race. Similarly, a boatload of quiet but strong introverts may never find the common core of fiery resolve that causes the boat to explode past its competitors when all seems lost. Good crews are good blends of personalities: someone to lead the charge, someone to hold something in reserve; someone to pick a fight, someone to make peace; someone to think things through, someone to charge ahead without thinking. Somehow all this must mesh. That's the steepest challenge. Even after the right mixture is found, each man or woman in the boat must recognize his or her place in the fabric of the crew, accept it, and accept the others as they are. It is an exquisite thing when it all comes together in just the right way.

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