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True Stories

This page has a collection of interesting rowing stories. Do you have one to add? Send an email with details and material source. We'll put it up on this page if it strikes our fancy.


Make way for ducklings:
“Australian, Henry Pearce, won the gold medal in the single-sculls rowing competition at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. He was so superior to his competition that he actually stopped to let a line of ducks pass in front of his boat and still won the race easily.”
Submitted by Bill Miller/from The Olympics’ Most Wanted by Floyd Connor


Defeated twice in the same race:
In 1880 Toronto sculler, Ned Hanlan, upset Australian sculler and World Champion, Ed Trickett on the River Thames. Hanlan was crowned the new World Champion. Neither sculler displayed much respect for the other before, during and after the race.

In 1882 a rematch was scheduled, again, on the River Thames. Hanlan played with Trickett during the race and then crossed the finish with almost a minute and a half lead. To add insult to injury, Hanlan turned his boat around and rowed down to Trickett, still on the racecourse, turned around again and beat him back to the finish a second time, maybe the only time a person was beaten twice to the finish line by the same person in the same race.
Submitted by Bill Miller

Ned Hanlan                           Ed Trickett

Olympic races cancelled:
“The rowing competitions at the 1896 Athens Olympics were scheduled as the last events. High winds and a cold rain made conditions unsuitable for competition. Boats were swept ashore by rough seas. Officials were forced to cancel all the rowing events.”
Submitted by Bill Miller/from The Olympics’ Most Wanted by Floyd Connor


Oddly named crews:
In the 1950s a crew registered as Vatican Boat Club. They turned out to be four brothers with the last name Pope.
- Quite recently an English regatta official checked out an entry from "Jesus Christ", which turned out to be a combination crew from two Cambridge University colleges: Jesus College and Christ College.
Submitted by Christopher Dodd


Coxswain slips away with gold medal:
“One of the greatest mysteries in Olympic history was the identity of a French boy who helped win a gold medal in the pair-oared-shell-with-coxswain rowing race at the 1900 Paris Olympics. The Dutch team of Francois Brandt and Roelof Klein decided that their coxswain, Hermanus Brockmann, was too heavy and was slowing their boat down. Their solution was to ask a young French boy to serve as their coxswain. Despite the inexperienced coxswain, the team from Amsterdam won the gold medal. It was estimated that the boy was around ten years old and weighed approximately 70 pounds. His identity may forever remain a mystery. After the race, the youth disappeared before anyone learned his name.”
Submitted by Bill Miller/from The Olympics’ Most Wanted by Floyd Connor


Double dead-heat down-under:
“Probably one of the most outstanding and unique races in [Ballarat City Rowing Club’s] history and certainly the history of Australian rowing occurred at the Barwon Regatta [1885]. At this regatta Ballarat City [won] the Senior Eight by the slimmest of margins – two feet from Williamstown. That in itself was quite an achievement but what makes it truly amazing is that [Ballarat] won that race after TWO dead heats against the same crew. This is possibly the only time in history of eight rowing that the same crew was rowed three times and on the third and final time the smallest of margins was enough to win.”
Submitted by Bill Miller/from The Boys from the Rush Beds by Kate Elliott also mentioned in Victorian Oarsmen by John Lang


Varnish remover at the 1936 Olympics:
Lawrence Terry, coach of the American coxed four from Harvard, helped Pocock to repair his eight, which had been damaged by a derrick when being unloaded. Terry had problems of his own. He had mistakenly rubbed his boat down with disinfectant intended for the oar handles instead of sperm whale oil, and it had taken off the varnish. 'At least you will have the most sanitary boat in the race,' Pocock told him as they sanded the bottom, and applied parafin wax to make it watertight."
From The Story of World Rowing by Christopher Dodd


Two Olympic gold medals within an hour:
John B. Kelly, Sr. arrived in Belgium for the 1920 Olympic Games as the USA sculler after having been denied entry into the restrictive Henley Royal Regatta and a chance to race three-time champion, Jack Beresford. Kelly was entered in two Olympic events: the single-sculls and the double-sculls with his cousin Paul Costello.

John B. Kelly, Sr. - 1920

In the 1st day’s singles heat (start time 2:50 PM) Kelly defeated Swedish sculler, Ljunglof. Then at 4:30 PM he and Costello defeated Holland in the double. This was tight timing for back to back races of this magnitude, but Kelly topped it in the Grand Finals on August 29th.

The Olympic single-sculls Grand Final start was at 3:30 PM and Kelly’s competition was the famous Jack Beresford, Jr., winner of the Diamond Sculls at Henley. Kelly won finishing the race at 3:37:35 PM and then climbed quickly into the double-sculls and shot back to the starting line for his 4:30 PM Olympic double-sculls Grand Final. Kelly and Costello defeated both France and Italy finishing the race at 4:37:02 PM to win a second Olympic gold medal in slightly less than an hour. (Note: In 1924 Kelly and Costello repeated as Olympic Champions)
Submitted by Bill Miller/from Rowing by Glendon & Glendon


Man Overboard - Henley Royal Regatta’s first coxless-four:
In Paris in 1867 there was a great international race. Of the seven four-oared crews competing, one was from Saint Johns, New Brunswick and two were English crews. Also competing was W.B. Woodgate in the single-sculls. The Saint Johns crew defeated all crews but raced without a coxswain while all other crews contained a coxswain.

Saint Johns "Paris Crew"

"Woodgate, meanwhile won a sculling race and left Paris with some notes and drawings of the New Brunswickian marine architecture in his pocket and an inkling in his head of a masterstroke for next year's Henley."

"Woodgate stole the thunder at [the 1868] regatta. Having spent a good deal of time tinkering with a steering device which owed much to the ingenuity of the men of New Brunswick, he announced that the Brasenose crew in the Steward's would row without a cox..."

Competing crews protested although no rule prevented a coxless crew from competing. The Stewards, shortly before the race ruled that the crews must use a coxswain.

"As soon as the umpire bade the boats go, the gallant [coxswain, Mr. F.] Weatherley plunged into the river while Champneys, Rumsey, Woodgate and Crofts set off in pursuit of Kingston and the Oscillators Club, spurred by the roar of the running crowd."

"Brasenose won by a hundred yards and were disqualified immediately."

But the point was made. Coxless-fours races were scheduled at various regattas and HRR permanently changed the Stewards’ Challenge Cup to a coxless event in 1874.
Submitted by B. Miller & C. Dodd and quotes from Henley Royal Regatta by Christopher Dodd


Seven oarsmen are better than eight:
Oxford "seven-oar" defeat Cambridge "eight-oar"

At the Henley Regatta on the River Thames in 1843, Oxford advanced through the heats while the Cambridge Subscription Rooms eight progressed through to the grand final. When ready to launch for the race, the stroke for the Oxford crew fainted. The crew petitioned the regatta stewards for permission to use a substitute oarsman.

The rule allowing the use of substitutes had been removed the previous year as a result of Oxford's protest of Cambridge's use of a substitute for questionable cause. Now, the situation had reversed. Cambridge insisted that the new no-substitution rule be honored. Oxford must row with the remaining seven oarsmen or forfeit the race.

Here's the description from The Aquatic Oracle:
"F. N. Menzies, stroke of the Oxford, having been taken ill, and the Cambridge refusing to allow a substitute, the crew rowed with seven oars only. The excitement was tremendous, when on crossing the stream, they went by the Cantabs, eventually winning by a length; time 9m."

The crew would thereafter be known as the Oxford Seven.
Submitted by B. Miller and quote from The Aquatic Oracle, 1868

Yale "seven-oar" defeat Atalanta Boat Club "eight-oar"
In 1890, Yale was racing the Atalanta Boat Club from New York, undefeated in three years. At about half-way of the four mile race Yale was leading. The Yale stroke and captain, Philip Allen, broke his oar. After sizing up the situation, Allen stood up on his seat-deck and smoothly "tumbled" into the New Haven Harbor. With a new stroke-oar now on starboard, the Yale crew increased it's lead and won.
Submitted by B. Miller and from The New York Times, May 25, 1890


Interesting prize:
"Police Justice Tighe, who is captain of the Varuna Boat Club of Brooklyn, has challenged Police Inspector McLaughlin, who is an all around athlete, to a rowing match, the prize to be a suit of clothes."
Submitted by B. Miller and from The New York Times, June 27, 1891

Interesting Competitors:
On the Harlem River in New York there was an annual regatta organized by the Dry Goods Clerks. In 1880 seven races were scheduled. Boats entered from A.T. Stewart & Co, Lord & Taylor, LeBoutillier Brothers, and J. & C. Johnston. The second race was for "Fat Men" (minimum weight was 200 lb.). "The successful 'fat' man will receive a silver medal with the figure of a man of heavy proportions wrought in gold in the centre."
Submitted by B. Miller and from The New York Times, Aug. 10, 1880


Sculler leaves 150 hp harbour craft out of sight:
Legendary sculler, Bob Pearce, met up with buddy, Bill Newell, just after World War II while serving with the Navy on Georgian Bay in Canada. Bill reports,

One evening while I was preparing to cox'n one of our 46' harbour craft on the eight mile cruise into Honey Harbour on a liberty break, Bob came along side in his single-scull and asked if I would like to race him to the government dock in Honey Harbour. I agreed and bet him an ale at the Delawana Inn that I would beat him. The harbour craft was powered by a single 150HP Cummins petrol engine with a cruising speed of about 16 knots, and I suggested I would give him a five minute start. I left the dock shortly after he disappeared around a nearby island, and I didn't see him again until I walked into the Inn and there he was, waiting for me to pay for his half empty glass of ale!”
Submitted by Bill Newell - Fonthill, Ontario


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