Rowing: Blues brothers with pulling power: Simon O'Hagan meets the Norwegians ready to make history in the Boat Race

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The Independent Online
THEIR football team helped put England out of the World Cup. They have become a force to be reckoned with in winter sport. And now two Norwegians are poised to become the first from their country to take part in the Boat Race. The fjords haven't known such excitement since the Vikings were going on their first overseas tour about 1200 years ago.

Snorre Lorgen, 24, and his brother Sverke, 20, will be trying to help Oxford University recover the winning touch which deserted them last year after six successive Boat Race victories. 'Herdy and Gerdy' is how the Oxford president, Kingsley Poole, refers to them. 'They're cool,' he says. 'They've got some kind of kin thing where they can just switch on and go nuts.'

Oxford might need them to. A much more experienced Cambridge crew are strongly fancied to win again, and looked impressive in training in Nottingham last week. Oxford, meanwhile, were not enjoying the smoothest of build- ups on the Thames. One of their crew, Adam Pearson, fell ill and had to withdraw, resulting in a succession of positional changes as they searched for the right blend.

The Lorgen brothers stand rather apart from it all. 'We don't have the same sort of relationship with the race as British people,' Snorre explained last week as he and Sverke (6ft 3in and 6ft 7in respectively) filled a large area of the Midland Bank Boat Club on the Tideway. 'Obviously it's an institution. I'm not trying to be negative, but it's harder for us to grasp just how big it is. In terms of racing I already appreciate what I'll have to do, but in terms of the atmosphere and animosity that tends to build up, that is still to sink in.'

Home is Aalesund on the west coast of Norway, just north of Bergen. 'A fishing village,' Sverke called it. 'It's not a village, it's a town,' said Snorre, leaping to its defence. Not that he and Sverke are unused to the big-time. They finished seventh behind Redgrave and Pinsent in the coxless pairs at the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992, a remarkably good performance considering they had only started rowing together in earnest earlier that year. They were seventh again in last year's world championships in Prague.

They are quick developers. Snorre had never rowed before he went to Harvard as an undergraduate. When he returned to Norway for the vacation he got his younger brother interested, and it was straight out into the fjords with the sharks and killer whales. 'Pretty scary,' Sverke said.

Sverke then joined Snorre at Harvard in 1992, and came with him to Oxford when Snorre began studying for an MPhil in Economics at the start of the academic year. Also an economist, Sverke had studied the prospectuses for the university and thought it looked 'quite good'. Not easily impressed, these guys.

Snorre said he was shocked to find there wasn't a phone in every room in college. 'Oxford is in the backwaters in some respects,' he said. 'But the people there are great, and that's what counts in the end. It's not a matter of whether you have to wear a gown or not. I don't see that sort of thing as either a plus or a minus. It just goes with the place.'

Kingsley Poole is conscious that Oxford must seem rather different to the Lorgens. 'It's all a bit quirky and archaic,' he said. 'They've had to get used to things like not having any showers where we train. It's all kind of stone age.' Snorre Lorgen agreed that Oxford is archaic, but 'in a good sense'.

What, then, are Oxford's chances in the race itself? Do they accept that Cambridge look better equipped? 'I don't really want to get involved in speculation,' Snorre said. 'I haven't seen that much of them. I know a couple of guys in the crew, but I haven't seen whether they gel.'

Norwegian sport is more Snorre's area of expertise. His 120-page undergraduate thesis was on how organisational changes in the Norwegian Olympic Committee would result in better performances. It doesn't sound like a blockbuster, but it does suggest Snorre is in the great Boat Race tradition of everyone having their ten pence worth. 'We have suggestions to make, and the rest of the crew can take out of that what they want.'

The Boat Race always seems to have been as much about talking as rowing. The 20 minutes of action is preceded by six months of preparation, much of it involving strategy, and with the odd mutiny thrown in. Certainly Oxford are finding plenty to discuss, cancelling a session on the water last week in favour of a meeting. Its purpose, Kingsley Poole said, was to make the crew more regimented, 'to get our act together'.

As stroke, as well as president, Poole is figuratively if not literally at the sharp end. 'Everyone wants to win the Boat Race and everyone's got their own idea of how to do it,' he said. 'My job is to try to get people happy and together.'

Togetherness is one of the qualities the Lorgens bring to the Oxford crew. At six and seven in the boat - a pair within the eight - their influence is as big as they are. Whether it will be enough to stop Cambridge is another matter.

(Photograph omitted)