ABOVE: GRANT AND ROSS JAMES. PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO.
Twin brothers Ross and Grant James first picked up their oars as college freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Six years later, the two brothers are about to compete in the London Olympics as part of the USA men's rowing eight. Not your average Olympic career. Indeed, if you consider other American athletes: Michael Phelps began swimming at age seven, 12 years before his first Olympics, sprinter Michael Johnson started running competitively 12 years before his first 1992 gold medal, and those other famous Olympic rowing twins—Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss—took up the sport at 14, 13 years before the Beijing Oympics.
We caught Grant, the first of the brothers to make the Olympic team, training with his teammates in Princeton, New Jersey, before he flew to London at the end of last week.
HOMETOWN: DeKalb, Ill.
HEIGHT: I guess [my brother]'s about, a centimeter taller, but we're both about 6'5". We passed our mom in the fourth grade, I think, and kind of kept inching up. I don't know exactly when I got to this height, but we were usually the taller kids in the class.
OCCUPATION: Olympic rower.
TWIN QUESTIONS: Do we ever get asked twin questions? Just generic twins things, like have you guys ever switched places, how do you tell us apart. We look a lot alike, so some of teammates don't believe that we're fraternal.
THE EVIL TWIN: Ross is the "evil" twin. I think he sort of just fell on to it one day; people started calling him that and it stuck so he kind of got a reputation. It's just for fun. Whether he's evil or not is for someone else to debate, but he's the evil twin and it's kind of fun. He plays the part well.
BEGINNINGS: I started rowing in 2005 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I got accepted in 2005, and I hadn't heard about rowing yet. But after I was accepted I got a postcard in the mail—a generic one they must send to all incoming male freshmen—and it said "Are you over 6'2," and have you ever considered rowing?" That was the first I had heard of rowing. Then, in the summer before your freshman year, you go to an orientation, and at this orientation, the coaches for the team, they grab all the tall guys that go through and they talk to them about rowing. I knew Wisconsin had rowing after the postcard, and when I got there I talked to the coaches and they gave us more information and we just started showing up to practice.
Freshman year, it was just kind of fun, because it's a new thing to try, it's exciting, and all your teammates, they're all big guys. We [were] just having a lot of fun with it, and then we started having some success. We made the freshman eight [boat], and in our freshman year we went to the national championships. You kind of just get better over time, and in 2008, we won the national championship, [so] we went on to the under-23 world championships, and we won that as well. You keep having success and you keep progressing to a different level. I think being twins helped us progress within ourselves and within the team; it was something we did well, together.
COMMITTING TO FOUR YEARS OF GETTING UP AT 6:30 AM: I think a lot of guys enjoy [rowing] mostly for the competition and, again, the teammates. Just the camaraderie; I think that's what keeps people around. It's definitely a lot of early mornings, we practice most every morning at 6:30 or 7 and then you practice in the afternoon again, so it's a lot of time rowing and it's very physically demanding.
CALORIE CONSUMPTION: Breakfast, we usually make some potatoes and eggs and sausage—just tons of stuff we mix together. Or we make breakfast tacos... it's usually a lot. We consume maybe six to eight thousand calories a day. Eating becomes a little bit of a chore sometimes, because you really have to always keep eating. We work out enough that we're hungry, but a lot of times you really got to eat until you're full every time, you're sitting there for like an hour, and you just keep eating and eating and eating. It's just a lot to get through.
BIGGEST FEAR DURING A RACE: [laughs] I guess it's just losing. But really at that point, you're just in the zone; you don't really have time to be afraid and you shouldn't be afraid, you should just be getting after it. I think before you start the race when you're just lining up and they're counting down, that's when you have to manage your nerves. But at this level, we have our little tricks to stay cool.
HENLEY ROYAL REGATTA: It's a really neat experience. Everybody's all dressed up in hats and dresses, and you have to wear a suit in a certain area. It's all very formal. It's a great spectator event, too, and in the US rowing isn't that big of a spectator sport; over in Europe where it's a lot bigger of a deal, people really get into it. It was kind of cool to feel that attention.
THE HENLEY BLAZER REQUIREMENT: I have one of those, we got a set of those for Wisconsin just for fun. They look a little goofy, but they're kind of cool wearing them together, and it's really the only time you get to wear them so they break them out and have some fun.
EVER DATED A COXSWAIN? No, I never dated a coxswain. At University of Wisconsin, we had male coxswains. You can have female coxswains, but our team didn't, we just had all male coxswains. I've heard of that, a lot of guys dating coxswains, [it] must be quite common, just 'cause you're always hanging out together or what, but no, I've never done it.
AFTER ROWING: Next year I plan to keep rowing, but when that's all said and done, I'll probably pursue a career in engineering.