1930 - 1939
Al Ulbrickson inherited a powerhouse rowing team in the fall of 1927 from his mentor Rusty Callow. In the two years that followed, Ulbrickson's squad faced California crews that had vastly improved under the leadership of the former Husky coxswain and assistant coach, Ky Ebright. The results for Ulbrickson were disheartening.
However, by the end of 1929 the team was on an upswing, surprising the field by finishing second at the IRA. Al Ulbrickson - only twenty-four when he took the reins from Callow - was young and was a quick study. In the decade that would follow, he, along with his freshman coach and classmate Tom Bolles, would develop a system that would again produce national champion caliber teams. And one of those teams would win what is still considered one of the greatest victories not only at Washington, but in the history of Olympic sports.
In 1930 there were 8,394 students at the school, almost twice the number in 1920. For coaches Ulbrickson and Bolles, that meant there were twice the number of crew candidates available on campus, and twice the opportunity to find the one or two men that might mean the difference between victory and defeat next spring.
The weather, disagreeable the first two years of Ulbrickson's career, was much better in the winter and early spring of 1930. The crews spent plenty of time on the water with the focus no longer on Poughkeepsie, but of beating the Bears on Lake Washington.
On the day of the race, the freshmen raced first and were expected to lose, but surprised the field by not only winning, but winning decisively - by seven lengths. The JV's led their race by open water at the mile mark, pushed it to four lengths at two miles, and cruised home eight lengths to the good.
The varsity race was different. Ebright's top crew sprung from the gate, leading the Huskies into the mile. At two miles it was still California, but Washington was within a boat length. The last mile was one for the ages; Cal bringing the stroke rate up only to be matched by the Huskies, the crews closing within a deck, then even at 200m to go. At that point the Huskies poured it on in front of the huge partisan crowd, finishing the three mile race five feet in front of the Bears. Ulbrickson, who already had a reputation for not showing emotion, must have cracked a smile at some point that day.
The sweep on Lake Washington was a burden lifted off of the team. The men practiced hard throughout the spring as Ulbrickson tweaked his line-up. By mid-June all three crews left for Poughkeepsie by way of Madison, Wisconsin. On Lake Mendota, June 16th, the Huskies swept the course by open water in each event, and arrived in New York the favorites to pick up where they had left off in 1926.
On the 24th, the freshmen lined up in a strong headwind and chop on the Hudson. In a slow race, they finished a disappointing fifth. The junior varsity fared better, but still lost the race to Cornell. The varsity, failing to move in the first mile and taking on water, could do no better than sixth, the worst showing ever for a Washington crew in the IRA. The 1931 Tyee called it "the most disastrous upset in Hudson regatta history."
Maybe, but maybe not. The conditions were miserable in the race, and like the strong California crew swamping the previous year, this race was more a survival of the fittest in the fittest lane, which Washington was not. But ending such a terrific season - one with such great hope - on such a low note, once again stalled the momentum Ulbrickson was intent on rebuilding. It would rest on his shoulders to guide the team back for the 1931 season.
Warren Davis, captain in 1930. Tyee photo.
The junior varsity ready for turnout. Tyee photo.
The "varsity", although this is most likely the varsity
at the time the picture was taken; Ulbrickson had a tendency to shift his
crews. Left to right: Ginger, Odell, Bowen, Phillips, Morris,
Schmidt, Alcorn, Davis, cox Harris. Loren Schoel replaced Alton Phillips for the
Cal race. Tyee photo.
The class of '33 freshmen, left to right (guessed: advise if known different): Wilson, Mjorud, Easterly, Stober, Ulbrickson, Goode, Daum, Miller, and cox Love. Tyee photo.
The managers of the team. All volunteers and considered part of the team, the managers (organized by classes, i.e. sophomore managers, junior managers, senior manager and senior-frosh manager, etc.) maintained everything from slides to shellhouse doors, and organized daily workouts and road trips down to the barest detail. The senior manager also drove the coaches launch. The group was instrumental to the success of the program and particularly invaluable to the coaches. The managerial role began to disappear in the sixties when many of the responsibilities were slowly outsourced to athletic department oversight staff. Front row middle is senior manager Batelle. Tyee photo.
Near the start of the Washington/California dual of
1930, Washington in the foreground in the new shell Pay Streak, the first
shell planked by Pocock with Alaska cedar. The crew had voted to name it
the George Pocock, but George changed it to reference the Alaskan gold rush and
the 1909 street end where the Tokyo Tea Room once stood (see 1910, '11, '12)
(1). Tyee photo.
This is an aerial photo of the
UW/Cal Dual Regatta Varsity 8 finish on Lake Washington in 1930.
The crews are beyond the finish in
this picture, which on the back says "thrill of a lifetime, Washington by 5
feet". Replaced by floating bridges (the I-90 bridge was completed in
1940), the ferry in the picture transported passengers and automobiles
from the foot of Madison Street to
Kirkland and back. Also note the cable cars backed up on Madison Street.
(The original picture is severely damaged and has been digitally restored).
VBC Collection: UW21788z.
A young Al Ulbrickson in Poughkeepsie, with the strongest team he had since taking over the program from Rusty Callow in 1927. After sweeping Wisconsin on their way to New York, the undefeated Huskies arrived as favorites to do the same at the IRA... and were soundly defeated, the Varsity limping across the line in sixth place and half-filled with water. This total team defeat rocked Ulbrickson and his men, the one bright spot being the deep roster that would be back and ready for revenge in 1931. Thank you Archives and Special Collections at Marist. Added 11/21
Sources: The Tyee, 1931 pgs. 161-166; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA. Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, pg. 139 (1).
With only Warren Davis and Dick Odell graduating, Ulbrickson had a talented and deep squad returning for 1931. So deep in fact that he did not set on a Varsity crew until two weeks prior to the Cal race on the Estuary in April.
Once in Berkeley, the crews practiced and prepared for their races. On the day of the races, the freshmen, touted as Bolles best ever, soundly defeated the Bears in their two miler, winning by over six lengths.
But the JV's and the varsity were both considered underdogs, particularly on the Estuary. The JV's, however, bolted to the front early in their race and stroke Greg Wilson never relented from a rate of 35 or above for the three mile distance, and the crew went on to win by a half length of open water. The varsity had a fast start, but caught a boat stopping crab just 400 m into the race. Cal then stroked a length up through the halfway point until at two miles, they caught a boat stopper, bringing the boats back to even. But the momentum was suddenly now with the Huskies, who were able to row the last mile a length ahead to complete the sweep.
By now the Depression was deepening, and funds were only raised for two boats to head east, Ulbrickson opting to take the strong freshmen team over the JV's. The Tyee noted that the freshmen were seen as an average crew until early in their race "the big first-year timber from the Puget Sound grabbed an early lead". Stroke Ed Argersinger never raised the rate higher than a 28, and the crew went on to dominate the race, becoming the first western freshman crew to win the Stewards Cup.
The varsity took an early lead in the Varsity Challenge, and led until the last half mile when they were overpowered by Navy and then Cornell at the line.
A colorized picture of the boathouse on the Montlake Cut ca. 1931. Tyee photo.
The 1931 Varsity on the ASUW Shellhouse docks, left to right: Henry Schmidt, Don Williamson, Herb Mjorud, Don Morris, Alton Phillips, Gil Brown, Gordon Parrott, John Ginger, with coxswain Richard "Curly" Harris. Washington Rowing Photo; added 2/21
The 1931 varsity facing interesting competition (co-eds) on the Cut, bow to stern: Herb Mjorud, Don Williamson, Hank Schmidt, Don Morris, Alton Phillips, Gil Bowen, Gordon Parrott, Johnnie Ginger, Curly Harris. Husky Crew Foundation photo: Erickson collection.
The class of '34 National Champion Freshmen crew, left
to right: Postnikoff, Storey, Day, Fisher, Edmundson, Lewis, McCarthy, cox
Anderson. The crew rowed in the Hiram B. Conibear at Poughkeepsie. Tyee photo.
The JV's, left to right: Wilson, Donahue, Reese, Schoel, Ulbrickson, Swanson, Easterly, Murphy, cox Noble. Tyee photo.
The varsity coming from behind to win the three-mile race on the Estuary against California. Tyee photo.
Armed with a dominant freshman crew from the season past, Ulbrickson set out early in the fall of 1931 to coach his young team. Adverse weather conditions plagued the team all season, particularly in the spring.
The Cal Dual was set for Lake Washington, with Washington confident after sweeps of the Bears the past two seasons and eager to try out their new course running parallel to the western shore near Sand Point. An advantage to this course was the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad track that could be used as an observation train for the length of the course.
Although the water was choppy and the day less than perfect, the freshmen started off the day taking an early lead and then lengthening to win by open water after California caught a crab. The JV's could not maintain the momentum however, losing to a polished California team over the three mile distance by seven lengths. That blow was only magnified by the varsity, limping home, the boat full of water, an estimated eighteen lengths behind California, the worst defeat ever suffered by a Husky crew. No doubt helping California were the newly designed single-bar riggers designed by Ebright - they caught significantly less wash in rough water than the standard double barred variety and were ultimately adopted by Pocock. (1)
No better testament to the community support the crew had is the fact that, even after this miserable showing and the economy squarely in the middle of the Depression, the team still raised the needed funds to take the varsity to Poughkeepsie. There the team placed third behind California and Cornell, about five lengths off the dominant Cal team but proving that they were still one of the top crews in the country.
1932 was also an Olympic year, and this time Ulbrickson took the team over to Lake Quinsigamond at Worcester Massachusetts for the trials. The varsity ultimately lost a close race in the preliminary events, and California went on to win the 2000 meter trials - and the 1932 Olympics on the Long Beach, California course - the second Olympic gold medal in a row for Ky Ebright.
The crews on Lake Union ca. early-mid thirties. Husky Crew Foundation photo: Erickson collection.
One of the Lake Washington dual races. The launch
is Ky Ebright's OSKI III, built in 1924 and carrying the California coaching
has been digitally corrected. Tyee photo.
The varsity on the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. Picture has been digitally corrected. Tyee photo.
The 1932 junior varsity. Tyee photo.
The class of '35 freshmen. Tyee photo.
(1) The Log of Rowing at the University of California, 1870-1987; Jim Lemmon; pg. 25
Although the team salvaged a disappointing year in 1932 with a respectable finish at the IRA, the members of the boathouse at Montlake were hardly satisfied. So much opportunity had been missed in 1932, and 1933 would offer a chance at a clean slate.
The Estuary would be the venue for the first opportunity at redemption. On April 8th the team met the Bears for the annual dual, and the freshmen wasted no time in defeating the Bears by over two lengths. The JV's followed up with an unexpected win, staying close enough down the three mile course to take advantage of a late race crab by the Bears to win the race. The varsity, with the IRA champion class of '31 now maturing as juniors, led early and dominated their rivals, winning by seven lengths and capping a stunning rebound and sweep on the Cal home course.
Washington had earlier accepted a challenge to race California and the fledgling UCLA program on the Olympic Long Beach sprint (2000 meter) course, and a week later defeated both schools in a time of 6:30. This is the first recorded 2000 meter race between California and Washington.
Two months later Washington was back on the Long Beach course for the first 2000 meter national championship. The 1933 IRA had been cancelled due to the Depression, but because the Olympic Long Beach course was gated, local businessmen arrived at a plan to charge admission and hoped to profit from the races. In the race, Washington defeated Ed Leader's Yale squad by eight feet, with Cornell and Harvard behind Yale - with the Huskies finishing the season undefeated - the first time since 1926. Unfortunately, the idea of rowing as a revenue sport did not pay off as planned, and there would be only one other major sprint regatta on the Long Beach course two years later.
This was, however, the first time Washington had raced Harvard or Yale, and the first 2000 meter national championship won by any school. It also was an opportunity for Ulbrickson to coach and prepare his crew for the 2000 meter distance, knowledge that would be very valuable in a few short years.
A good shot of a shell being loaded onto the ship prior
to departure for California. Tyee photo.
A dramatic shot of the turning point in the California JV race - these crews were virtually even until the sprint. Tyee photo.
The varsity completing the California sweep in dominant
fashion. Tyee photo.
This varsity crew was undefeated and winners of the first 2000 meter national championship in 1933. Tyee photo.
The JV's, left to right: Easterly, Stober, Johnson, Oberleitner, Miller, Ulbrickson, Moore, cox Brooks, missing - Padelford. Tyee photo.
The varsity, left to right, stroke to bow:
Argersinger, Raney, Mjurod, Parrott, Day, Snider, Washburn, White, cox Love. Tyee photo.
The Class of '36, undefeated at the 2 mile distance in 1933 - and for the first time in the history of the program, the 2k distance as well. Racing on the Estuary on April 8th, the Husky freshmen defeated Cal by 2 lengths. The next day the entire team boarded a steamship and cruised down to Los Angeles, where they quickly changed gears and trained on the 2,000 meter LA (Long Beach) 1932 Olympic course. On April 15th, down by 2 feet with 2 strokes left, the freshmen pulled out the narrowest of victories over Cal, with UCLA trailing by a length. Left to right (stroke to bow): Dick Ballard, Vosburgh, Sidney Lund, Frank Marolich, Victor Carter, Walter Bates, Cliff Garl, Bradley McMichael, and coxswain Bob Moch in front. Photo: from the scrapbook of Bradley McMichael '36; Thank you Valerie Johnson Fish. Added 9/16.
A program from the Pacific Coast Intercollegiate 2,000m Championships. Washington swept the regatta over California and UCLA, the first 2k regatta on the west coast for collegiate crews. Photo: from the scrapbook of Bradley McMichael '36; Thank you Valerie Johnson Fish. Added 9/16.
A letter home from freshman Bradley McMichael, discussing the Cal race, the "Estuary lined with people for 3 miles" and that they had to row by "instinct" in the last half mile because they could not hear Bob Moch due to the noise. He also laments the fact they would be sailing to Los Angeles and he would "probably get seasick once more." Fortunately any effects of that journey had worn off by the next Saturday, as his team would pull out a nail-biter against Cal in the last few strokes to secure the 2k victory. Photo: from the scrapbook of Bradley McMichael '36; Thank you Valerie Johnson Fish. Added 9/16.
The 1934 season opened with an anomaly that would be both a blessing and a curse for Ulbrickson in the coming years: the freshmen won the class day race. The blessing would come later; in the spring of 1934, he would have to live with the ramifications of having a varsity squad that was not as typically deep as he had grown accustomed.
Even so, his varsity eight continued a string of victories over California in the dual race, this time winning by a scant three seats on Lake Washington in April over a predominantly sophomore Cal team. The freshmen also handily defeated California, but the JV's, reflective of the Class Day woes, lost by at least eight lengths.
Ulbrickson took two crews to Poughkeepsie, the freshmen and the varsity. The varsity, snake bit all year by various mishaps and illness, led for three miles but could not match the conditioning and strength of a quickly maturing California crew, who came back to exact revenge from their earlier defeat and win the IRA. The powerful freshmen, unchallenged all year, won the Steward's Cup by four lengths over their nearest rival, Syracuse.
With the west coast teams flourishing again, and both with young crews poised to return in 1935, the stage was set for a resurgence of west coast rowing that would dominate the IRA - until World War II forced the cancellation of the regatta. And although undoubtedly a bitter pill to swallow, the results of 1934 heralded good things to come for Ulbrickson and the team.
The varsity winning on Lake Washington in the Cal dual
by about three seats. Tyee photo.
The 1934 varsity, left to right: Argersinger, Raney, Snider, Marolich, Carter, Moore, Washburn, White. Ole Johnson, a member of the JV squad, stroked this boat up to about two weeks prior to the Cal race. Ed Argersinger, the 1934 captain, was destined for the stroke seat and everyone knew it - but Johnson was a precision oarsman that helped Ulbrickson fine-tune the other seven in the shell. Johnson, the consummate team player, never won a varsity letter - but did win the Piggott medal as Inspirational Athlete in 1934. Tyee photo.
The undefeated class of '37, left to right: Schact, Morris, Green, Schoch, cox Morry, Hartman, Rantz, Hunt, Lund. Tyee photo.
The undefeated class of '37, a dominant and deep freshman squad, became the force by which Ulbrickson would build his varsity in 1935. In fact, for the only known time in Washington history, the varsity that lined up to take on Cal on the Estuary was made up entirely of one class: the sophomores.
But it came with a cost. The already competitive shellhouse environment was magnified by this development. It did not help that newspaper stories had Ulbrickson grooming this crew for the coming Olympics in 1936. And it made some sense: this was a group of highly talented men, they were young and receptive, and could be developed without risk of graduation.
However, the squad was deep. To compound the plan, just days before leaving for the Estuary the competitive junior varsity, a typical cross-section of men (including two more sophomores), defeated the varsity in a four mile trial. That event led Ulbrickson to challenge his young varsity, once arriving in California, to face off again against the JV's three days prior to the races. For a second time, the JV's won. A perplexed Ulbrickson ultimately stuck with his sophomore crew for the Cal race, but these two crews were now locked in an internal battle that would not end until the season would close out months later.
The sophomore varsity rowed a strong race later that week, but trailed the Bears the balance of the three mile course - sometimes by as much as a length - only to storm back in the last 300 meters to win by six feet. The JV's, as one might expect from the recent intersquad battles, led their race from the outset and won by six lengths, and the freshmen finished the sweep by three lengths.
By the time the crews arrived in Poughkeepsie, Ulbrickson had swapped the JV's for the varsity, and for the first time in four years raised the money to take all three crews east. Bolles freshmen started race day by again dominating the field as his crew did in 1934, winning by five lengths over a highly rated east coast contingent. The now all-sophomore JV's followed up with a victory in the Kennedy Cup over Navy and Cornell. The varsity, however, could not complete the sweep, like 1934 leading into the last mile but being overtaken by California and finishing third behind a closing Cornell.
1935 would mark the second and last time the Long Beach course would hold a 2000m varsity sprint championship after the IRA. Six boats competed in the finals-only race, and California swept ahead at the end to defeat Washington by four seats, with Syracuse, Pennsylvania, UCLA and Wisconsin trailing in that order.
Thus Ulbrickson would enter the coming Olympic year with a balance of questions. On the negative side was the fact that for two years now his varsity could not close the deal at the IRA. They had also lost at the sprints in a similar manner - and to California, a perennial competitor at the 2000m distance and winner at the '28 and '32 Olympic trials.
On the positive side was the fact that both the classes of '37 and '38 were dominant - he had a young squad with racing experience and victories in the underclass races at the IRA. Further, with the Long Beach competition in 1933 and 1935, he and the crew were learning how to train into the 2000m distance. The outlook was promising, but there was little doubt that to get to the Olympics in 1936, Ulbrickson would have to face and defeat the intellectual master of the 2000m race, Ky Ebright.
The dedication of the new 1935 varsity shell Tamanawas. The Native American name Tamanawas was conceived via a boat-naming contest on campus, a Chinook word meaning "friendly guardian spirit". By 1948 the shell became the first "sectional"; cut into three pieces, each section placed on top of a car, and driven around the west to be bolted back together and raced by the lightweight team. (1) Tyee photo.
The varsity sprinting to come from behind and defeat California on the Estuary in April. Tyee photo.
The class of '38, left to right, stern to bow: cox Schenk, Hume, Canfield, Seaman, Adam, Coy, Hatch, White, Murray. Tyee photo.
The class of '37 "all-sophomore" varsity on the Estuary, left to right, bow to stern: Schact, Morris, Green, Schoch, Hartman, Rantz, Hunt, (George) Lund, cox Morry. Tyee photo.
The patchwork JV's, left to right: York, Raney, (Sid) Lund, McMillin, Snider, Bates, Day, White, cox Moch. The competition between this crew and the all-sophomore crew grew intense as the year progressed; conversation between the two crews at the boathouse became limited to the short greeting that brothers Sid and George Lund - in opposite boats - made to each other each day. Tyee photo.
The 1935 managers: first row left to right - Kirschner, Stewell, Jacobsen, Sherman; middle - Ryan, Parry, Philbrick; back row Eagleson, Edwards. Tyee photo.
The finish of the 1935 2000 meter varsity national championship at Long Beach with California sprinting to close out the Huskies. Tyee photo.
1) "Way Enough", Recollections of a Life in Rowing; Stan Pocock; pg. 33-34.
Note to readers: With the success of the Boys in the Boat, we have built a page that includes the original history and photos as written below, but also includes more photographs, video and detail here: The 1936 Olympic Rowing Team - The Boys in the Boat
Building into the Olympic year, Ulbrickson now had ten years of coaching behind him. At his side was his '26 classmate and friend Tom Bolles, and at his other side was the quiet master, George Pocock. The combined rowing experience - as athletes or coaches - of these three men was unmatched anywhere in the country.
Ulbrickson trained the men hard. Gone was the internal animosity of 1935, although there is little doubt that the fevered competition from that year led to better oarsmanship a year later. Outside of the later events of 1936, Bob Moch remembers the intersquad time trials of 1935 as the best racing of his career - the most intense and competitive. By 1936, that intensity was re-channeled into a saying that became the motto of the crew: "LGB", meaning "Let's Go to Berlin", and a second meaning - "Let's Get Better".
The first test for this crew came in April on Lake Washington. The freshmen and JV won their races easily, and the varsity finished the sweep with a three length victory over California. Note: Watch a newsreel of the V8 event here, including a jam packed spectator train running along the now Burke-Gilman trail: Stock Footage - University of Washington beats California in a boat race in Seattle, Washington (no sound). (thank you Bob Koch)
Two months later all three crews were back in Poughkeepsie. The freshmen and JV's both defended their titles, but the varsity remained a question. In opposite fashion of the two years before, this time the crew was almost instantly behind, and settled at a stroke rate below 30 - the leading crews moving out to a multiple - at least five - length lead. There the Huskies remained through the balance of the course, methodically stroking a 28, the crews in front, including California and Navy, sitting on them. At a mile and a half, Washington turned on the power like a switch, raised the stroke to 34, and the shell lifted out of the water. "We took off...we just flew by them" says Bob Moch, almost as surprised today as he was decades ago to feel the unleashed power of this crew. The win completed the first ever sweep of the Poughkeepsie by a west coast crew - and was the first ever varsity win for Ulbrickson.
Moch reflects on a practice at night on the Hudson river with this crew prior to that race, a defining moment for the team. The crew had postponed an afternoon time trial on the course because it was so windy and rough, and had gone to a movie instead. On the water that night after it had calmed, he remembers "it was pitch black, the wind calmed down and after the time trial was over, we turned around and headed for the shellhouse...all three crews were together, we started out, just going 26, 27 - just going home - we got so far ahead of the other two crews we couldn't even hear them ... you couldn't hear anything... you couldn't hear anything except the oars going in the water...it'd be a 'zep' and that's all you could hear - the oarlock didn't even rattle on the release." A shared moment in rowing history that special crews experience - still to this day.
From Poughkeepsie the men traveled to Princeton New Jersey for the Olympic trials. On July 5th they met a polished Pennsylvania Club Crew, New York Club Crew, and Ky Ebright's California crew for the right to represent the country in the Olympics. Ulbrickson's now practiced strategy of "Keep the stroke down and then mow 'em down in the finishing sprints" was executed to the letter by his team, casting all three crews out for almost a full length while rowing a 34 before reeling them back in one by one. In the final 400 meters, the Huskies walked through the Pennsylvania crew as Hume took the stroke up to a forty, and they won by a length going away. "Hume stroked a perfect race and I think this crew will give a good account of itself in Berlin" said Ulbrickson.
The men stayed at the New York Athletic Club rowing quarters on Travers Island north of New York - with time for rest and rejuvenation - until departing with the entire Olympic Team for Hamburg aboard the S.S. Manhattan. George Pocock and members of the NYAC helped place the Husky Clipper onto the boat deck of the ship for safe transport to Europe.
Once in Germany, the team stayed near Lake Grunau, the site of the Olympic competition, at Koepenik. The team worked out twice a day on the lake, and dined at night with all of their competitors in the same mess hall. They also participated in the Opening Ceremonies, marching before Hitler and 120,000 frantic German fans, and attended some of the games.
The race format was similar to today. Three heats, with the winner advancing to the final, and a repechage (second chance for those not winning a heat), with the three top places of that race also advancing to the final. Washington won their heat against what Ulbrickson and Pocock felt would be the toughest competition, Great Britain, and in the course of doing it set a new world record. Germany and Italy won the other heats; these three crews now had two days of rest before the final.
And rest was important for Washington. Both Gordon Adam and Don Hume had contracted an illness earlier in the week. The effort during their prelim only exacerbated the symptoms, particularly Hume's. On the day of the final race, he was plainly ill - but Ulbrickson had made his decision. Much like Rusty Callow and Dow Walling at Poughkeepsie in1923, the alternative was not spoken that day. Hume would race.
The six crew final was in the afternoon. Washington was assigned lane six, based on the German officials' decision to position the slowest qualifiers in the most protected lanes (this was challenged by the Americans to no avail). The slowest qualifier was Germany, the second slowest was Italy. The starter faced into the quartering headwind, and his commands were unheard by the Huskies, who nevertheless got a decent start. Hume brought the stroke down to a 36, and the crew went on cruise for the first 1200 meters.
Germany, Italy, and Britain all moved ahead, with the leader, Germany, at least a length up. Fighting the quartering headwind in lane six, the Huskies began to increase the stroke rate. Finally, with about 500 meters left in the race the lakeshore changed, disrupting the lee in which Germany and Italy were racing. The quartering headwind was now evenly felt, at about the instant Hume and his crew began to sprint. By now we know what happens when this crew would sprint, and the confidence they had in each other; every race in 1936 this crew had fallen behind, only to gain it back. The last 200 meters were a blur, with Hume bringing the stroke rate up to an unheard of 44, the crowd chanting "Deutsch-land, Deutsch-land, Deutsch-land", and yet it was in that last 200 meters that the United States went from third to first, crossing the line about ten feet in front of Italy, with Germany third.
The exhausted crew rowed in front of the grandstand, then to the dock, where a wreath was placed over the head of each oarsman and the coxswain. There were no interviews. The men stayed in their quarters that night. The next day they received their medals in the Olympic stadium; after the games were over, they went home various ways, some choosing to travel Europe, others going straight home.
Historically speaking, the 1936 Washington crew would have been memorable without the Olympic victory. By sweeping the Hudson for the first time, the crew established itself as the deepest to date; with the varsity coming from lengths back in the last half mile, it established itself as one of the strongest.
But with the almost surreal Olympic victory in pre-war Germany, the crew became legendary. And although the story itself seems to have a life of it's own - every perspective is different, and the years blur some of the details - the fact remains that this is the first Husky eight-oared crew to complete their season as undefeated National Champions - and - World and Olympic champions. And forever will they hold that honor.
The 1936 Varsity Boat Club - note the house picture in the bottom right corner. Tyee photo.
1936 senior crew managers Bob Edwards and Bob Lund. Tyee photo.
Don Hume's sense of the boat and the men behind him was
one of a kind. He was so ill in Berlin that Ulbrickson replaced him at
workouts and seriously considered alternatives, but John White and Jim McMillin
interceded and asked the coach to get Hume back in the boat. They said the
rest of the men would pull him down the course if they could just have his
rhythm back, to which Ulbrickson reportedly said "Well he doesn't pull
anyway!". (1) Tyee photo.
"This crew was like a band of brothers" says Bob Moch
"each as vital and valuable as the other." Bow to stern, Morris,
Day, Adams, White, McMillin, Hunt, Rantz, Hume, Moch.
Foundation photo: Erickson collection.
Tom Bolles and Al Ulbrickson sporting Fedora hats and lots of W's in 1936 (literally and figuratively). Royal Brougham of the Seattle Post Intelligencer wrote of Ulbrickson watching the 1936 IRA varsity final: "...the finest crew he had ever coached seemed beaten beyond all doubt. When the tide of fortune suddenly changed, Tom Bolles pounded a stranger with his hat. The dignified George Pocock whooped (yet)... Al Ulbrickson's sphinx-like face never as much as quivered. Not a sound came from his lips." Tyee photo.
Bob Moch was varsity coxswain in 1935 and 1936, coached the Washington freshmen and lightweights with Bud Raney from 1937 - 1939, then spent five years at M.I.T as head coach. He also received the Schaller Scholarship Plaque from 1934 through 1936 with the highest grades on the team, and was VBC manager his senior year. Did he know about crew before he entered college? "Oh - everybody did...I knew for years I was going to turn out to see if I could be a coxswain for the University of Washington crew...I was always interested in athletics and there was only one place I could go." Bob describes the 1936 Olympic race, and what Husky Crew meant to him here - Listen: Bob Moch and the 1936 Olympics. Tyee photo.
The 1936 varsity, left to right: Don Hume, Joe Rantz, George "Shorty" Hunt, Jim McMillin, John White, Gordy Adam, Charles Day, Roger Morris, cox Bob Moch in front. Only Moch was a senior. Tyee photo.
A postcard from the 1936 Olympic Games depicting the rowing course on Lake Grunau. Bob Moch says this is not the best representation: there were grandstands on the water side of the course but they only spanned the last 200 - 300 meters, not the full length. Most importantly though is the lack of topography; the promontory that shaded the inside lanes from the wind is not depicted, and played a large role in the way the final race played out. The postcard is dated Aug. 12, 1936, and reads partially - "En route to rowing prelims in S. Berlin. I hope to see U.W. crew in action - they're scheduled to row this afternoon...". If the writer made it to the races, he saw a new world record established by the Huskies. Husky Crew Foundation.
Washington defeating the British in their first heat by about a half length in world record time of 6:00.86 . The physical and mental effort expended in this race by the favored British likely ended their Olympic hopes; although advancing the next day through the repechage, they finished out of the medals in the final. Bob Moch Photo.
About 200 meters to go in the Olympic final. Italy is ahead by over half a length, with Washington (in the far lane) and Germany (in the near lane) both very close for second. Bob Moch Photo.
About a 100 meters later and Washington and Italy are close to even - that is how fast this crew moved when the stroke rate went up. Bob Moch Photo.
The finish. Tyee photo.
Moments before the Star-Spangled Banner. Bob Moch Photo.
Bob Moch's Olympic medal and certificate. The memories remain emotional to this day, and he says of the eight men in the crew - "my honest belief - I think they were the best rowing crew that ever existed". Husky Crew Foundation Photo.
Tom Bolles was the "professor type - very intelligent and had a wonderful personality" says Moch. 1936 was the last year Bolles coached at Washington - after the Olympics he was offered and accepted the head coaching position at Harvard. He coached there until retirement in 1951, and is credited with the resurgence of the Harvard program (his crews won the Harvard-Yale race in all but two of the years he coached). Tyee photo.
Events of the Century - is the article from the December 29th, 1999 Seattle Post-Intelligencer naming the 1936 Olympic victory as the greatest Seattle sports moment of the 20th century. Some of the story is a bit embellished - there is no other record of the team ever meeting Hitler - but the story is accurate from the personal perspective of these athletes; after the race they were, for a man, so physically and emotionally exhausted it was likely impossible to remember the race and post-race details a week later - let alone sixty-three years later when this article was written. Although various perspectives may differ - what crew wouldn't - it certainly catches the electricity of the moment so many years ago.
1) "Way Enough", Recollections of a Life in Rowing; Stan Pocock; pg. 33-34.
Turning out in the fall for the varsity squad this year were members of three previously undefeated and national champion freshmen classes. The classes of '37, '38, and '39 were all IRA winners, and many now had varsity or junior varsity experience. To classify this year as deep would be an understatement - the entire Olympic champion eight was back except Bob Moch, the coxswain - and there were at least sixteen more men who could likely step into any varsity boat across the country turning out at Montlake in the fall of 1936.
The race on the Estuary would reflect it. The freshmen, now coached by Bud Raney and Bob Moch after Tom Bolles departed for Harvard, won by three lengths against a highly touted California crew, followed by the JV who won by ten lengths, and then the varsity, who won by another three lengths.
On to Poughkeepsie, where Ulbrickson did what he had done on the Estuary in 1935: had his crews face off on the river, prior to the race, to see who rowed faster. They ended in a dead heat after four miles, with Jim Ten Eyck, the legendary Syracuse coach remarking to Ulbrickson afterward "Thanks for the trip - since I've now seen this year's race, I can go home now" (1). Regardless of the outcome, Ulbrickson got what he wanted; two crews foaming at the mouth to compete.
On June 22, the freshmen started the day off with a wire to wire win, to claim a fourth Stewards Cup in a row for Washington. The second varsity - what else could you call it - crushed the old record in their race, winning in 13:44, or over 34 seconds faster than the previous mark.
The varsity faced a tougher challenge early, but this was the same Don Hume and the same crew behind him as in 1936. Navy shot out of the gate and set the pace for two and a half miles - Washington, Cornell and Syracuse in second. At that point Washington began to creep forward, and at three miles had moved into the lead. By then the race was as much as over, Washington just plowing forward the last mile as the rate went up, crossing comfortably in front by three lengths over Navy, capping a second consecutive sweep of the river.
Like the crew of 1936 (it was, absent the coxswain), this crew could turn it on and off like a switch. The combined crew team was the deepest to date; in fact the depth of the team had been building since 1933, and with a fourth freshman IRA victory in a row, the talent in the squad would not be declining for awhile. And even though there were still three Olympians returning for 1938 - Don Hume, John White, and captain elect, Gordy Adam - the news around the shellhouse was there were five seats open in the varsity for the first time since 1935. For Ulbrickson, it was inevitable. For the oarsmen locked out of the top two boats for the last two years, it was "let the competition begin".
So much talent, and only so many boats. Tyee photo.
Mount Rainier as a backdrop in 1937. Tyee photo.
Jim McMillin was senior captain in 1937. He lost one race in his career (his one loss was when his varsity finished third in the 1935 IRA) and finished with one IRA bronze, three IRA golds, and an Olympic gold medal in his collection. He went on to become head rowing coach at MIT. Husky Crew Foundation photo: Erickson collection.
Choose a crew in 1937 - at least thirty of these men
had an IRA title under their belt. Like '36, these crews swept the river
at Poughkeepsie. Tyee photo.
The JV's on the Estuary. This crew, rowing mostly alone, finished in 14:49, six seconds faster than the varsity in their three-miler with Cal. They had something to prove, and they pretty much proved it all year long; that they were the fastest varsity crew in the nation - except for the one they raced each morning in practice. And even that, on any given day, was debatable. Tyee photo.
The varsity finishes the sweep on the Estuary. Tyee photo.
1) Interview with Robert Moch, November 28, 2002.
With a large contingent of the '36 and '37 golden boats graduating, 1938 would prove a challenge for Ulbrickson. Even so, there was no lack of depth in this program - the team was loaded with experience and multiple IRA champions.
The Cal Dual was swept by the Huskies on Lake Washington in April, but California put up hard fought battles in each race. The JV race was the closest, with the Bears falling by only a half length over the three mile course. The freshmen won by about a length, and the varsity by open water.
Poughkeepsie was another matter. Washington was the two time defending champions in the three marquee races and felt the pressure. Adding to the drama, Ulbrickson became upset at his JV squad while in New York and told them they were "on their own".
Coincidentally or not, the JV's would be the only crew to win that year on the river, winning by open water with Cal second. The freshmen were edged out by California - a crew they had defeated earlier - by a deck length at the finish (this was the first time Cal had won the Stewards Trophy). The varsity fought it out with California all the way down the course, but both teams were surprised by Navy - on the other side of the course - sprinting into the last half mile and beating both crews to the line, Washington finishing third.
It would be easy to say that the crew suffered an
inevitable let down after the heights of the '36 and '37 seasons, but the real
answer is probably more complex. Not unlike many crews before them - and
after them - their pre-season potential and self-imposed expectations, coupled
with the overwhelming success of the previous years, were likely factors in
their undoing. But weather, illness, and personal chemistry were also
issues. Regardless of hypothesis, the truth was that California pushed
these crews hard in the spring, and Ebright's freshmen had won at Poughkeepsie
for the first time. That Cal was in an up-cycle was all they needed to
know as they headed into the 1939 season.
The U-District in the late 30's, a snapshot of life in the heart of the bustling "Ave." At the center of the photo is the University Bookstore along with Bartell Drugs, two businesses that remain to this day at the same addresses. The streetcar running south was likely headed for Broadway on Capitol Hill, part of an extensive streetcar system in Seattle that, by the early 40's, had been mostly dismantled. Tyee photo.
The freshmen on Lake Washington. Tyee photo.
The team rowing past the brand new Boeing 314 Clippers moored at Sandpoint for testing. The Clippers would go into service in 1939, but production was limited to only twelve. With a wingspan of 152 feet, the Clippers were a double-decker ultra-luxury mode of travel overseas, with a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii taking 19 hours (with seats that folded into bunks) and included a dining area and lounge. Erickson collection
January 30th, 1938: a classic scene of mid-winter practice under gray skies, a photo from Don Hume's scrapbook with a note over it that simply says, "Don broke his oar this day". Training this time of year took the team out into Lake Washington for 7-8 mile rows, with 1-2 minute intervals at higher rates, as the team geared up for full 4-mile pieces at 32 strokes/minute as March began. HRF photo
The class of '41 freshmen, bow to stern, left to right:
Neil Haig, Wayne Gordon, Bill Neill, Gerald Keely, Charles Jackson, Donald Wiss,
Orwin Thomas, Dick Philbrick, and cox Edgar Kerrihard. Tyee photo.
From Don Hume's scrapbook, a ticket for observation car #7 (he was not the one using it)... on the Northern Pacific rolling bleachers running parallel to the course for the Cal Dual. The lucky holder of this ticket got to watch every stroke of the Washington crews as they swept the Bears on the Richmond Beach course April 16th, 1938. Don Hume scrapbook
The JV's after holding off the Bears for three miles by a half length, finish the race in exhaustion. Tyee photo.
The 1938 varsity with assistant coach Bob Moch at the helm. Tyee photo.
Cox Johnny Gallup with stroke Ellis Coder, Bob Whitney, Norm Milbank and Herb Graybeal in a "pickle boat" - the IRA four made up of spares. Before it became an "official" event, the pickle boats from all of the squads at the IRA's would race an informal race on the Hudson. Tyee photo.
The coxswains of 1938, left to right: Fred Colbert, Ted Hokenstad, Wendell Smith, Johnny Rosenkranz, Gordie Powers, Johnny Gallup, John Brennan, Ray Hughes, and Harold Rome. Note the line-up board in chalk above them. Tyee photo.
Two future Washington Hall of Famers enjoy each other's company - Al Ulbrickson Jr. sitting on Al Ulbrickson Sr.'s lap. Tyee photo.
Boys will be boys. 1938 Captain Bob Murray with Gus Eriksen (holding the bow) and Chuck Jackson (holding the apple). Eriksen became acting "coach" of the JV's after Ulbrickson became tired of the antics in the boat - the JV's ultimately won the IRA - and Ulbrickson would end up choosing him as his freshmen coach a few years later. Ted Alderson, also a Washington coach for a time (and a member of the '38 JV's), remembered Gus as a special teammate and "an amazing guy - one of a kind." Suspended from the team for fighting, Eriksen rowed a wherry around whenever the varsity was out for practice; one night he and George Pocock raced from the lighthouse, with Pocock impressed enough to suggest to Ulbrickson that he give Gus another chance. Ulbrickson did. At the Loyal Shoudy banquet his senior year, Gus stood to address his teammates and coach for one last time and to "say something funny" - and was so overcome with emotion he had to sit back down. (1) Tyee photo.
1) "Way Enough", Recollections of a Life in Rowing; Stan Pocock; pg. 11 and 26.
California came into Seattle in April of 1939 poised with one of their best crews since the twenties. Ky Ebright, who had seen his varsity crews row in the wake of Washington at the Dual for six straight years, had a deep squad, including the 1938 freshmen IRA champions, and was bent on changing the pattern.
On the Estuary, the Washington freshmen won their race, but the JV's lost. In the varsity event the Bears, rowing with skill and the pent up frustration of losing in years past, won by twelve lengths. Subsequently, in a move that was seared into the memory of the Husky athletes and fans at the race, the California varsity then turned around and rowed back to the dock before the Huskies crossed the finish line (1).
The stunning defeat was a wake-up call for everyone associated with the program. A steaming Ulbrickson came home and began changing line-ups. The crews left for Poughkeepsie in better condition physically and with a different attitude.
The freshmen began the events by re-capturing the Steward's Cup by two seconds over a charging Columbia crew. The JV's fought neck and neck down the three mile course with Syracuse, only to lose by about six feet at the finish, with California trailing. The varsity ended up casting Cal out early in their race, but came rushing back in the last half mile to close within a quarter length at the finish to the same Cal squad that had defeated them by twelve lengths two months earlier, pushing Cal to a course record (18:12) on the Hudson.
The close defeats in the two upper class races were bitter. But the malaise that had gripped the program following the '36 and '37 seasons was gone. Washington left Poughkeepsie with a first and two seconds; more importantly, they left as a vastly improved - and vastly different - group of young men than had began the 1939 season.
The 1939 Poughkeepsie varsity, left to right: Coder, Duppenthaler, Keely, Jackson, Colbert (cox), Gordon, Grunbock, Soules, Canfield. Tyee photo.
The 1939 Poughkeepsie JV's, left to right: Eriksen, Graybeal, Caldwell, Murray, Hokenstad (cox), Hartman, Thompson, Michalson, Alderson. Tyee photo.
The class of '42, IRA freshmen champions: Bracken, Fowler, King, Garhart, Erickson, Yantis, Douglas, Anderson, and Fomo (cox). Tyee photo.
Ted Hokenstad, coxswain of the 1937 National Champion Freshmen team, 1939 JV cox (above) and VBC member, joined the service after graduation and - like many of his teammates - was an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces overseas in WWII. A B-17 navigator, Hokenstad flew multiple missions aboard the "Birmingham Blitzkrieg" out of Polebrook, England, including the first Heavy Bomber air raid on mainland Europe by an American squadron on August 17, 1942. The tail-gunner of the Birmingham Blitzkrieg, Sgt. Kent West, was credited with shooting down the first German fighter plane by a U.S. gunner on that initial mission over Rouen, France (a successful attack on a German marshalling yard). As noted in the article, the crew and commanding officers were eager to get back up in the skies for more.
Hokenstad and his B-17 team were ultimately transferred to the North African campaign in the fall of 1942, flying missions out of Algeria. On December 26th, 1942, the Birmingham Blitzkrieg was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Biskra, Tunisia and exploded in mid-air, killing the ten-member crew. Ted Hokenstad, along with the other members of his crew, to this day are still listed as "Missing In Action." Added 8/22; Thank You Lee Corbin
Sources for the 30's: University of Washington, The Tyee, 1931 -1940; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA; VBC Log Book, 1936-1955, MSCUA; The Log of Rowing at the University of California, 1870-1987, Jim Lemmon; Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, Gordon Newell; "Way Enough", Recollections of a Life in Rowing; Stan Pocock; The Seattle Post Intelligencer, various articles (specifics available on request); The Seattle Daily Times, various articles (specifics available on request); A Short History of American Rowing, Thomas Mendenhall; Interview with Robert Moch, November 12, 2002.
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