'Amateurs' Subject Reflects on Halberstam

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Tiff Wood, who was profiled by David Halberstam for the book The Amateurs. At the time, Wood was a rower who aspired to compete in the 1984 Olympics. Wood looks back at the experience.


War, politics, big media. David Halberstam also liked to write about sports. We're joined now by Tiff Wood. He is now an actuary in Portland, Oregon, but a quarter century ago, he was trying out for the 1984 Olympics, and that's how he became the featured subject in David Halberstam's book "The Amateurs," about competitive rowing.

Hi, Tiff Wood, welcome to the program. Tell me, what was it like to be interviewed by David Halberstam?

Mr. TIFF WOOD (Former Competitive Rower): Well, you have to understand that at the time I think I had read every one of his books prior to that, and so to me it was amazing that he wanted to speak to me in the first place. I mean, rowing is very much a small sport from the media perspective. I mean, he was so professional about his approach to the whole process. It was in many ways a pleasure.

CHADWICK: Did you know why he wanted to talk to you? Was he a rower himself, or did he just think somehow you would be an interesting subject? What was it that made David Halberstam decide to talk to you?

Mr. WOOD: Well, what he said at the time was that he was writing an article for a magazine. It was supposed to be about the Olympics. He decided he wanted to focus one of the less-commercialized sports, and rowing came to mind. He called the U.S. Rowing Association and described to them what he was after, and they said, well, the person who did the best this year - that was 1983, the year prior to the Olympics - was Tiff Wood, why don't you talk to him.

So I came back from lunch one day at work and had a message slip waiting, saying that David Halberstam had called, which you know, to me was pretty amazing, and he - initially it was an article that he then decided there's a book here, and expanded on it.

CHADWICK: So how did he go about getting that story out of you, and what did you learn about him and journalism in the course of that?

Mr. WOOD: Well, one of the things that I certainly learned in the process of working with him over the course of what was ultimately about eight months was what hard work it was, what he did. I was really impressed. I think a lot of people perhaps have the perception that writers are perhaps dealing more in inspiration than perspiration, but he was completely professional and diligent about this.

It would be the kind of thing where I would have a couple-hour meeting with him and talk about a whole range of topics and find out over the course of the next few days that he had called virtually every person I had mentioned in the conversation to verify the story.

I mean, this was a job that he took very seriously, and that was - it gave me -I think in some ways I trusted him more as a result of it to - certainly I never knew whether necessarily he would say things that I liked, but I had a pretty good feel that he'd say things that were true.

CHADWICK: Did you ever have occasion to speak with him after the book came out?

Mr. WOOD: Oh, yes. Yeah, we stayed in touch. It has drifted a little bit, certainly as I moved out to the West Coast. I saw him a few years ago when he was in town for one of his recent books about - "The Teammates." It was about some baseball players, one of whom had started his career in Portland.

So it was - I certainly looked forward to talking to him and expected to be able to talk to him for many years to come.

CHADWICK: Rower Tiff Wood, the subject of David Halberstam's book "The Amateurs," remembering the writer who died yesterday in a traffic accident, speaking with us from Portland, Oregon. Tiff Wood, thank you.

Mr. WOOD: Thank you.

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