Trial By Media

In Which Daniel Topolski, former coach of Oxford's boat race crew, is immersed in rowing magazines
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The Independent Culture
LOOK FOR a magazine on rowing amid the plethora of men's journals at your newsagents and you'll be disappointed. Golf, football, angling, bikers, health, laddish lifestyle and sex, no problem. Minority sports? Forget it. So it's strictly subscription-only specialist monthlies.

For most people, rowing is the Boat Race, Henley and Steve Redgrave. But for 30,000 British men and women rowers the groan is, "What about us?" Try 30 times that number in over a hundred countries and you have a gap in the market crying out to be filled.

The specialist magazines, all they've got, are filled with the eccentric, the medical, the sports-political and the ego-driven gossip. Training hints jostle with results tables from obscure regattas mixed in with those from international events and ads for 85-kilo racing boats, oars, riggers and heart-rate monitors. The letters pages, though, are a joy, full of bitter arguments over the minutiae of the sport.

Compared to the men's health and fitness magazines, which focus on sex, muscle-building and diet - "Get lean, get serious, get a bigger chest", "Fat loss in a bottle", "Maximise your sexual performance" - the specialist mag makes solemn reading. Not many laughs. Yet the fitness mags praise rowing as the all-round aerobic sport.

Regatta magazine, the voice of the Amateur Rowing Association, has a captive readership. Rowers get it free with their obligatory registration fee to the ARA. Without it they're not allowed to compete.

Regatta has elbowed aside the less glossy Rowing, which for 50 years was the only source of news about the sport apart from broadsheet coverage of big events. Hilariously ungrammatical editorials and hopeless spelling distracted readers from the message, but it was an authentic voice from the riverbank. It is now deceased, victim of a quaint but effective price- cutting war. Who needs two rowing mags when one is "free"?

The German Rudersport is, as you'd expect, fact-focused, and America's the Oarsman carries long rambling essays. Edward English, a Californian- based aficionado, produces a fat handbook of world-wide news cuttings twice yearly.

But let's face it, none of these is going to give the editor of Men's Health any sleepless nights.