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Olympic Rowing a 'Tall Order' for DeKalb Twins

Olympic twins Grant and Ross James talk about their start in rowing and their journey to the Olympics

By Alexandria Fisher
|  Monday, Jul 9, 2012  |  Updated 4:53 PM CDT
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A set of twins from Chicago discuss their entry into the world of competitive rowing.

A set of twins from Chicago discuss their entry into the world of competitive rowing.

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For nearly as long as they can remember, Grant and Ross James were told they should play basketball.

But the DeKalb-based James brothers, now Olympic teammates standing at 6-foot-5, were never your typical tall twins.

They passed over basketball for white-water rafting, rifle shooting and other “unorthodox sports.” So when they received a postcard asking for men 6-foot-2 or taller to join the University of Wisconsin-Madison rowing team, the brothers were intrigued.

They showed up for freshman orientation and were immediately spotted by recruiters as potential rowers, despite their lack of rowing experience.

“We looked out for [the coaches] and talked to them and started showing up on the first practice and kept showing up,” Grant James said.

Being tall is vital to rowing, but tall twins are a secret weapon known around UW-M as a “holy grail.”

The James brothers have similar body types -- strong upper bodies and long arms -- that make them good for competition. Not only are they synchronized, but their similarities make competition between the two fierce.

“There’s always, amongst our friends at least, competition to see who’s the better twin,” said Grant James. “I think that kind of pushed us to always be better. There was always someone there who’s at your skill level trying to be faster than you.”

Though the boys were physically prime for the sport of rowing, the sport wasn’t easy to pick up.

“It does take a while," said Ross James. "Rowing is kind of a sport where you have to bang your head against the wall a lot of times until you figure it out. We’re kind of the guys that like to try something and stick with it until we can make it work.”

Still, their first time in a boat was no easy feat.

“It’s like the tippiest thing you’ve ever gotten into,” said Grant James. Though they had doubts they would ever be able to keep the boat afloat, they now say “flipping is not an option.”

They use that motto to continue to prosper throughout their rowing careers.

The brothers had a shot at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but the team failed to qualify for the Games, making them the only American rowing team in the modern era of the Olympics to do so.

The Grant twins are now the only returning members of the 2008 crew after grueling training proved their worth. The 2012 team won its ticket to London after a win in the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne, Switzerland.

But the twins’ journey is far from over.

“Rowing’s the kind of thing you just take the next step and we’ve just been along the way continuing to push for the next goal,” said Ross James. “It’s always 'train hard, try to get fast' and our main goal right now is July 28, which is our first race at the Olympics.”

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