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True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny

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Strikingly reminiscent of Chariots of Fire, this book tells the story of the sporting event which shook both Oxford University and its Boat Club to the very foundations during the harsh winter of 1986/7. A group of American students arrives at Oxford, hoping to put some steel into a Boat Race crew still reeling from their recent humiliating defeat at the hands of Cambridge. Strikingly reminiscent of Chariots of Fire, this book tells the story of the sporting event which shook both Oxford University and its Boat Club to the very foundations during the harsh winter of 1986/7. A group of American students arrives at Oxford, hoping to put some steel into a Boat Race crew still reeling from their recent humiliating defeat at the hands of Cambridge. But disagreements over training methods soon bring to a head a bitter clash between the elected President of the Dark Blues and a fiery-tempered rower from California. Much more than the race is at stake in this clash between the amateur sporting tradition of the Boat Race and New World big-star sportsmanship. In the resulting battle, which made headline news worldwide, the rebels, having failed to remove the Boat Club President, pull out six weeks before the race. Will Oxford Coach Topolski, against all odds, mould an inexperienced and demoralized reserve crew of no-hopers into a winning team?


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Strikingly reminiscent of Chariots of Fire, this book tells the story of the sporting event which shook both Oxford University and its Boat Club to the very foundations during the harsh winter of 1986/7. A group of American students arrives at Oxford, hoping to put some steel into a Boat Race crew still reeling from their recent humiliating defeat at the hands of Cambridge. Strikingly reminiscent of Chariots of Fire, this book tells the story of the sporting event which shook both Oxford University and its Boat Club to the very foundations during the harsh winter of 1986/7. A group of American students arrives at Oxford, hoping to put some steel into a Boat Race crew still reeling from their recent humiliating defeat at the hands of Cambridge. But disagreements over training methods soon bring to a head a bitter clash between the elected President of the Dark Blues and a fiery-tempered rower from California. Much more than the race is at stake in this clash between the amateur sporting tradition of the Boat Race and New World big-star sportsmanship. In the resulting battle, which made headline news worldwide, the rebels, having failed to remove the Boat Club President, pull out six weeks before the race. Will Oxford Coach Topolski, against all odds, mould an inexperienced and demoralized reserve crew of no-hopers into a winning team?

30 review for True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny

  1. 4 out of 5

    Penny Hill

    Harsh review alert! I know nothing about rowing. Enjoyed learning a bit more about the boat race and this headlining period. However, I got bored. Seemed to go round in circles. The whole debacle went on forever. Meeting after meeting. For goodness sake just boot the yanks off and make a decision!!! Also bored by the detail in races and even practices. Unless you really into rowing this is dull. It had irritated me early on comparing waiting for letter from Oxford with waiting for news on Death Harsh review alert! I know nothing about rowing. Enjoyed learning a bit more about the boat race and this headlining period. However, I got bored. Seemed to go round in circles. The whole debacle went on forever. Meeting after meeting. For goodness sake just boot the yanks off and make a decision!!! Also bored by the detail in races and even practices. Unless you really into rowing this is dull. It had irritated me early on comparing waiting for letter from Oxford with waiting for news on Death Row. Really??! Maybe I just don't understand that rowing is it! The elite of the elite. The sport above all other sport. Might watch the boat race with bit more interest now though?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    I have been hunting for a copy of this book, never published in the States, for a couple of years. I was seriously excited to find it. It tells the story of the Oxford Boat Race Mutiny, which, I'm sure, many Americans never heard of. There's a nicely done film based on it available on Netflix under the title "Miracle at Oxford" (the title it was released under in the States; the film was called 'True Blue' in the UK). To make a long story short the Boat Race is the premier collegiate sporting ev I have been hunting for a copy of this book, never published in the States, for a couple of years. I was seriously excited to find it. It tells the story of the Oxford Boat Race Mutiny, which, I'm sure, many Americans never heard of. There's a nicely done film based on it available on Netflix under the title "Miracle at Oxford" (the title it was released under in the States; the film was called 'True Blue' in the UK). To make a long story short the Boat Race is the premier collegiate sporting event in the UK (Think BCS Championship, the Final Four, and the College World Series rolled into one). It's watched by more than 180 million people world wide (far more than the entire population of the UK), and more than a quarter of a million people attend it. It puts the top rowing team from Oxford against the top team from Cambridge over a grueling four plus mile course, more than triple the distance of the longest Olympic rowing event. In 1986, after a stinging loss, Oxford recruited a group of Americans with world championship and Olympic experience. What followed was a culture clash--American individualism versus the English sense devotion to duty and order, and the American star system versus the English team system. Simply put, some of the Americans, who had never raced at the Boat Race distance, refused to follow the training regimen laid out by the Oxford coaches. After the coaches agreed to modifying the schedule, some of the American athletes, recruiting some of the Brits to their faction, demanded, first, that they dictate who would row in the squad and, later, that the coach be removed. The author, Dan Topolski, who was the Oxford coach under attack, is careful not to American bash or make the story out as a Yanks vs. English. He notes the many Americans he had on his teams, and notes his many American friends in the international rowing community. He does, however, without calling names, make a strong case that the Americans in question had an inflated sense of their own importance and that they rested on their past performance rather than train hard under the Oxford system. Although it's not in the book, I do know that Chris Clark, one of the American ringleaders of the mutiny, looks back on his behavior with much regret and denounces his younger self as egotistical and immature. Although he never personally reconciled with Topolski, Clark is now a college rowing coach and has send some of his own athletes to the UK to train under Topolski for the Boat Race. It's an exciting and true story about athleticism, loyalty, teamwork, and the big sized egos both of athletes and the men who coach them. For an American audience, it's an interesting look at how some of our cultural values "play" overseas. It's a great book for anyone who loves sports stories, especially those of the underdog variety.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris Lilly

    I was really gripped. I have almost no interest in rowing, the references to "sitting in the seven seat, where legendary Oxford oarsmen F..... And G.... And H.... had sat..." I found quite mystifying, and yet... What a story. What a fascinating study of sport ace brattishness. What a great compendium of ways to prepare for crucial meetings. So I rushed to finish, I was amazed to be as gripped, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I shall watch the Boat Race in April with new eyes. I was really gripped. I have almost no interest in rowing, the references to "sitting in the seven seat, where legendary Oxford oarsmen F..... And G.... And H.... had sat..." I found quite mystifying, and yet... What a story. What a fascinating study of sport ace brattishness. What a great compendium of ways to prepare for crucial meetings. So I rushed to finish, I was amazed to be as gripped, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I shall watch the Boat Race in April with new eyes.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rick Bayko

    It took years to track down this book written three decades ago, but I'm glad I finally found it....in a library in Osterville, Massachusetts. It had apparently been donated, as inside was a hand-written note from the author that read, "For Joan, Since the U.S. Publishers have decreed this anti-American you may be my only reader on that side of the Atlantic! Best Wishes, Patrick --March 1989" Some critics have called it a fiction, although factually five Americans were among the rowers and coxswa It took years to track down this book written three decades ago, but I'm glad I finally found it....in a library in Osterville, Massachusetts. It had apparently been donated, as inside was a hand-written note from the author that read, "For Joan, Since the U.S. Publishers have decreed this anti-American you may be my only reader on that side of the Atlantic! Best Wishes, Patrick --March 1989" Some critics have called it a fiction, although factually five Americans were among the rowers and coxswain vying for seats in the Oxford boat, factually they eventually were expelled from or quit the team, and factually the less heralded substitutes went on to upset Cambridge despite oddsmakers rating them 6-1 underdogs. This is the side of the story as told by Coach Dan Tolposki.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ed

    A well written personal account which perfectly blends the coach's level of knowledge with the pace and context of good journalism. This is a gripping account and the huge tensions running high throughout this book are perfectly delivered. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and going into it blind left it a real thriller into the bargain. Not for those with no interest in sport, but certainly for anyone else. A well written personal account which perfectly blends the coach's level of knowledge with the pace and context of good journalism. This is a gripping account and the huge tensions running high throughout this book are perfectly delivered. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did, and going into it blind left it a real thriller into the bargain. Not for those with no interest in sport, but certainly for anyone else.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ross Douglas

    Excellent.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Outstanding!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Julie Oldfield

    A gripping story; I am not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if i had not been living on Oxford in the 80s.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Even in this technological age, a film copy of this story is hard enough to find, let alone a physical copy of the book. So it was happy chance that I stumbled across a second hand copy at work a couple of months ago, and quickly snapped it up. Growing up in the world of rowing, the Boat Race has always been keenly followed in my family - some with hard pressed loyalties, others who just pick a side on the day. Being a hard and fast Oxford supporter, I always enjoyed watching the 1996 movie adap Even in this technological age, a film copy of this story is hard enough to find, let alone a physical copy of the book. So it was happy chance that I stumbled across a second hand copy at work a couple of months ago, and quickly snapped it up. Growing up in the world of rowing, the Boat Race has always been keenly followed in my family - some with hard pressed loyalties, others who just pick a side on the day. Being a hard and fast Oxford supporter, I always enjoyed watching the 1996 movie adaptation during the rowing season to get psyched up, but as I developed into more of a reader, I had always wanted to read about the events to get a little more detail. I was not disappointed in this book. It is a sports book in the truest form, with great descriptions that convey the very real sense of what it is to row and to be a rower. While few people in this world will ever earn a Blue, even those who have never stepped into a scull or felt the enduring pain of a race will appreciate this story and the history of the Boat Race. This book gives a great retelling of the classic 1986/7 Oxford Mutiny, from the perspective of Dan Topolski, long-time coach of the Oxford University Mens Eight. At times, I found myself wishing that it wasn't written in the first person though. As a reader of a lot of sports books, particularly those that follow a season, I find that the best stories are able to be conveyed without the first person, but that only narrowly affected this read for me, and I loved it. Another point that slightly bothered me was the lack of viewpoint from the other side - the mutineers, but that is understandable. This story and this season is a sore point for many who were involved, and some took many years to be able to talk about it openly. So it doesn't surprise me that some may have declined to be interviewed, or Dan Topolski wanted a chance to tell things from his own perspective, along with MacDonald. Great books about rowing are extremely hard to come by - they are few and far between, and those that are around are often written by people who might not fully understand what it is to be in a boat. Dan Topolski does, and although this book was co-written with a professional writer, the sense of what is is to be completely invested in rowing is portrayed well, and I could recommend this as a great read to just about anyone.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Martin Jones

    True Blue is an account of a crew mutiny during Oxford’s preparations for the 1987 University Boat Race, written by the team coach Dan Topolski. This is a great read, exciting on the psychological battle, setting an alliance of club coach and president, against a group of disaffected American oarsmen and their British accomplices. It is equally exciting on the physical battle of boat racing. Apart from the compelling narrative, there is also a wider significance to this story. There is a literal True Blue is an account of a crew mutiny during Oxford’s preparations for the 1987 University Boat Race, written by the team coach Dan Topolski. This is a great read, exciting on the psychological battle, setting an alliance of club coach and president, against a group of disaffected American oarsmen and their British accomplices. It is equally exciting on the physical battle of boat racing. Apart from the compelling narrative, there is also a wider significance to this story. There is a literal wider significance, in the way events reach out into Britain’s establishment with the involvement of powerful former oarsmen and sympathisers. Strategic help to defeat the rebels comes, for example, from the headquarters of the Parachute Regiment. More importantly, there is also the sense that this is a symbolic tale about power and authority. Much of British sporting history involves the idea of knowing your place and meeting your obligations bravely, without complaint or anticipation of reward. This is particularly true of rowing, which did not withdraw its Mechanics Clause preventing the involvement of “manual workers” until 1937, and did not accept professionalism until the late 1990s. There is much to be thankful for in such changes. But if you think True Blue is a story of modern heroes taking on the stuffy old British establishment, then you would be wrong. This is an almost Shakespearian tale showing a challenge to authority, and the sense of chaos that follows. At one stage, the beleaguered president, Donald McDonald, working on Shakespearian essays for his English Literature course, draws this parallel for himself. As a reader, you very much cheer for Macdonald and his coach, and hope they will triumph in their struggle to restore the natural order of things. True Blue is a defence of values that have become unfashionable, the qualities of acceptance and doing your duty. Rowing’s past might not be completely honourable, and the pendulum may have swung a long way from the values of the traditional establishment, but the thing about a pendulum is that it will always swing back again. Dan Toploski describes this back swing with great passion in True Blue. I highly recommend it, whether you are a fan of rowing or not.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wouter Verster

    I read this book some twenty five years ago and really liked it. Just recently I re-read it and was less impressed. Why? The story is quite captivating and I did like some of the metaphors used though consider some really over the top (Topolski: 'when I walked out of the meeting with that piece of paper, agreed by the Americans, I felt like Neville Chamberlain on his way home from Munich'). The book is about politics in sports more than the sport itself. It deals with the different views, team sp I read this book some twenty five years ago and really liked it. Just recently I re-read it and was less impressed. Why? The story is quite captivating and I did like some of the metaphors used though consider some really over the top (Topolski: 'when I walked out of the meeting with that piece of paper, agreed by the Americans, I felt like Neville Chamberlain on his way home from Munich'). The book is about politics in sports more than the sport itself. It deals with the different views, team spirit and club loyalty versus individualism/egos. The prose is fine, but the story rather one-sided, very biased. It is a good read, but does not match the quality of David Halberstam's 'The Amateurs' which I consider among the best books on rowing. Topolski does not dive as deep, writing what it takes to achieve excellence or about the continuous quest for refinement in technique. Toward the end of the book, it gets a certain bitterness and revenge over it which I think is not necessary. Nevertheless, this book provides for an inside story of 'the institution' rowing is, full of history and at the time of the event, still very much an elite sport.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    A rowing 8 is supposed to be the epitome of teamwork -- "pull together!" Well, the hard 20s here are even harder due to the egos and expectations of the big Americans who have come to Oxford to row against Cambridge in the traditional big race. Interesting. By no means a typical sports book, since it is about amateurs, and not specifically about any (at least in the US) famous or extraordinary athletes, or great triumph of the will. A rowing 8 is supposed to be the epitome of teamwork -- "pull together!" Well, the hard 20s here are even harder due to the egos and expectations of the big Americans who have come to Oxford to row against Cambridge in the traditional big race. Interesting. By no means a typical sports book, since it is about amateurs, and not specifically about any (at least in the US) famous or extraordinary athletes, or great triumph of the will.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cathryn Cooper

    A fast paced read for the most part. Like the eight you need to push through the rough water at times but I suspect that the level of detail was part of the cathartic process involved in writing the account. My heart was racing during that last chapter describing the race. Could have done with some dates flagging where we were in relation to the race during the book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    this was really interesting. i didn't know the story before i started this book and it really gripped me to the end. this was really interesting. i didn't know the story before i started this book and it really gripped me to the end.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    One of my Top 5 books of all time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mr Mark Sherwin

  17. 4 out of 5

    Blake Bromley

  18. 4 out of 5

    Terrye Moses

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stan Contat

  20. 4 out of 5

    William

  21. 4 out of 5

    Polly March

  22. 4 out of 5

    david lee

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Lopes

  25. 5 out of 5

    Fergal McGrath

  26. 4 out of 5

    James Mccullagh

  27. 5 out of 5

    JAMES AND BEGONIA ARNOLD

  28. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Allison

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eric Healing

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hywel Care

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