It's All in the Wrist

Back in junior high, before boyfriends and girlfriends made it big, the pecking order was decided with wrist wrestling matches.

You are at lunch and have just blown confectioners sugar all over the kid across the table from you. He doesn't see the humor and retaliates with his jello. But the cubes stick to the bowl so he resorts to the mashed potatoes which are not going anywhere but his lap.

So he intones the magic words. "You wanna arm wrestle?" It's as if he had said, "E.F. Hutton is my broker and . . .": Heads turn and a crowd gathers.

You confidently squeeze your opponent's clammy palm, slam it to the table and gulp down your milk.

It had its merits as a method of determining rank. The strong and the influential usually came out on top. The role of strength is obvious; the role of influence somewhat more subtle. If you had influence you could count on support from friends when the inevitable argument started over who lifted their elbow off the table first.

It will never be the same, though. Not since the Monday night opening of the Harvard Wrist Wrestling Championships. The Harvard version, with its muscle-rippling behemoths trudging around preparing themselves for about five seconds of exertion more closely resembled backstage at a weightlifting tournament than the old junior high cafeteria.

Or maybe it was the Friday night fights on Channel 27, with a rowdy crowd cheering on the Fabulous Moolah or Andre the Giant.

The event was definitely the thing. At one point the throng of 100 began to chant, "Orb, Orb, Orb!" building to a thunderous crescendo as their man, Dave Sherman '77, entered clad in a yellow bathrobe which served as his warmup suit. He slowly removed it, acknowledged his fans, flexed his muscles and went down to defeat in quick order. But no matter, the Mighty Orb headed for an early shower via the beer keg.

Of course, the arm wrestling was not completely overlooked.

The most exciting match of the evening, mainly because it lasted close to 20 seconds, featured Mike Brown '80 and Mike Rubenstein '78 in the 200-220 lbs. category. The two heavies hunched over a table built by Marv Wheat '78 according to the official rules. (Official rules--are you kidding?) They pursed their lips and stared striaght down waiting for the start. This was going to be a battle and the crowd sensed it.

Brown seized the early advantage with a quick snap of his wrist, but Rubenstein, the fans' choice, held him off. Muscles bulged and Rubenstein's face turned bright red but neither arm moved. Finally Brown wore down Rubenstein and his defeated arm came smashing down.

Afterwards the wearied contestants discussed technique. (Now I've heard everything. All it involves is muscle. Either you got it or you don't and that's that.)

Wrong. "Strength does count for something," Rubenstein said. "I was holding him off on my strength. You need it to put the man away." But muscle isn't everything, for all of Rubenstein's weight-lifting was no help against the quick Brown. Brown's secret? "I just got psyched before. I put on some Led Zeppelin."

"It's more technique than strength," according to Paul Sablock '79. Chris Ecker '78, who went far among the biggies, had it all figured out. "There are two things. Get down on the person really quick, snap really quick. You got to pull in at the same time."

Then there are the training regimens. (This sure is getting complicated.) Rachel Newton '79 attributed her success to "a little banging of the head against the wall." Ecker felt that his cradling of a stick in lacrosse practice helped, and Orb Sherman said he was on a "high protein, low carbohydrate diet." He explained in between chugs of beer that he had forgotten his "pills" before the match, pulling a bottle of the neglected "One-A-Days" from his pocket.

There were even a few who trained seriously. Regina Boyland '78, a Sunday finalist in the 115-25 lbs. women's class, admitted that she had worked out with hand grips and had sparred with her roommates.

Dave Potter '77 consumed four or five beers before his match, according to bartender Dan Binning '79. "He lost, but I'm not saying that beer did it," Binning said. Beer seemed to be the gatorade of the evening, however, as almost half a keg was consumed in one half hour stretch. They didn't have that in Junior High.