About the only thing that most of us remember about the Berlin 1936 Olympics games today is the amazing performance that track star Jesse Owens, much to Adolph Hitler's chagrin, turned in for the United States. Now, Daniel James Brown has written a book, The Boys in the Boat that might just change that - at least for a while. Brown's book is subtitled: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Games. It has been almost eighty years since these young rowers won gold and their story is understandably a largely forgotten one. Well, it is time to fix that.
By the time they arrived in Berlin, the men, all of them University of Washington students, had already accomplished more than they ever had a right to dream of accomplishing. The 1930s was still a time when rowing was considered to be a rich man's sport, a sport firmly established on the East Coast and dominated by the elite universities there. Rowers were most often sons of the upper classes. Their fathers were doctors, lawyers, politicians, and multi-millionaires. No way should a rowing team from the West, one composed of the sons of farmers, loggers, shipbuilders, and other blue-collar workers be able to compete consistently with the boys of the East.
Coaches at the University of Washington and at the University of California were determined to change both the perception of their skill levels and the results of direct competition with their East Coast rivals. As the 1936 Olympics approached, they had accomplished both goals in spades. Not only did they start dominating the East Coast competitions, they so thoroughly dominated them that they convinced that region's sports writers that they would continue to do so for years to come.
The University of Washington and the University of California were lucky to have each other. Their head coaches were intimately familiar with each other's reputation, style, and tactics and the competitive rivalry that developed between their rowing teams was good for both schools. In fact, if they had not had each other, neither school is likely to have accomplished what it did. The schools were also very lucky that both had a head coach destined to make the National Rowing Hall of Fame: Washington's Al Ulbrickson and California's "Ky" Ebright. And, as it turned out, rowing coaches across the U.S (and, eventually, elsewhere) were lucky to have George Yeoman Pocock, builder of the fastest racing boats in the world, come along when he did.
|Daniel James Brown|
In The Boys in the Boat, the author, with particular help from the daughter of rower Joe Rantz, delves deeply into the personalities and make-up of the members of the medal-winning team. At times, in fact, the novel is so personal and so well researched that it reads more like a novel than a nonfiction sporting history. It is an unforgettable piece of writing that I recommend to readers of all types. You most certainly do not have to be a sports fan or someone who reads little other than history to enjoy The Boys in the Boat. Please don't miss this one.