During the 2012 Summer Olympics, a photo of the United States Men’s Four rowing team accepting their medals went viral when we all got a pretty clear view of Henrick Rummel’s crotch.
For his part, Rummel played along like a good sport.
Yet since then, rowers have made a change, changing into something less revealing with the cameras trained on them.
If you’ve watched rowing before, it’s no secret the guys wear extremely revealing shorts, called trou. And it’s not lost on the rowers themselves. As former college rowing coach Charley Sullivan once wrote for us in 2012:
If you choose to row, and you have a penis and a testicle or two, said equipment will inevitably be on full display. In front of God and your grandma and everyone. This is a major piece of education that we do with our guys about two days before their first fall regatta, about the same time we give them their first pair of rowing shorts, or “trou” as we call them, short for trousers.
However, things have changed a bit since 2012. Scanning Getty Images of medal ceremonies at the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Games, there’s hardly a bulge to be found. Athletes now adorn loose-fitting pants so as not to make grandma blush.
Of the couple of photos where an athlete looks like they may be wearing the tight-fitting trou, the photo is cut off at the waist.
Call it the London effect.
Much of Western society has had a fear of the bulge for years. While there are certainly some straight men who have found their way into Speedos for a trip to the beach, for the most part the choice is the baggiest trunks available.
“I don’t want to see anyone’s junk,” the public proclaims.
On the other hand, many gay men can’t fill up their Speedo drawer enough. The bulge: not so scary.
Of course rowing isn’t the only sport with revealing attire. Wrestlers stand in front of the camera, an arm lifted in victory, with nowhere to hide. Divers: same thing.
Olympic swimmers use to wear nothing but traditional Speedos, though today it’s full-on leggings.
It also raises a conversation about how men and women in sports are sexualized differently. For example, women in beach volleyball have to wear revealing bikinis, while men have to wear shirts to cover their bodies. Yes, this is alive and well at the Tokyo Olympics.
To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with whatever makes the athletes in rowing most comfortable. They just won a medal on the biggest stage of their career. They should be celebrated for their accomplishment, and as Sullivan pointed out years ago, the snickering about guys’ bulges distracted from that.
It’s just odd that for so many years standing on a medal podium in their uniform was no big deal. Then, thanks to Henrick Rummel’s crotch, the attire of an entire sport shifted.
As society becomes more comfortable with Calvin Klein billboards and male nudity, who knows, maybe the bulges will some day return to Olympic rowing.