row2k Features
Peter Mallory's 'The Sport of Rowing'
Conn Findlay: Conn is Conn - Part I
January 4, 2010
Peter Mallory

These excerpts have become a holiday tradition on www.row2k.com. I thank Ed Hewitt for his friendship and all of you for your contributions and feedback over the years. Thanks to you, my book project is nearing completion. Special thanks today go out to the people I write about in this season’s excerpt. You will see they have given me extraordinary access. I admire their accomplishments, and I am privileged to call them my friends.

Details of my book project are available at www.rowingevolution.com. The current working title is Rowing and Sculling: The Comprehensive History, and I take the word “comprehensive” very seriously. The book has grown to three volumes and will cover the worldwide evolution of rowing technique since rowing as a sport was invented at Eton College during the late 18th Century. By now I have collaborated with several hundred people around the world and traveled more than 50,000 miles over five years to do my research. I have amassed perhaps the largest digital video collection in the world, read hundreds of books and recorded hundreds of hours of oral history.

As always, it is hard to pick up any book in the middle and start reading, which is basically what you all on row2k will be doing over the coming days. The following is Chapter 80 of 167.

You will find there are some references to the Stanford coxless-pair of Jim Fifer and Duvall Hecht that won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1956. I tell their remarkable story in the chapter that precedes this selection. Several of the protagonists of this chapter describing the Olympic career of Conn Findlay went on to further accomplishments with Lake Washington Rowing Club, which I describe in later chapters. Conn’s two coaches, George Pocock and his son Stan, and several others such as Karl Adam are covered in great detail elsewhere along with the techniques they taught. My apologies for these omissions from this row2k excerpt. A person pretty much has to read the entire book to get the entire story.

If you have questions or comments, please contact me at pmallory@rowingevolution.com. Happy Holidays.


PART 1:

80. Conn Findlay: Conn is Conn
1956 – 1960 – 1964 – 1976


Training on Lake Washington in 1956
1956 United States Coxless-Pair
Stroke Duvall Hecht, Bow Jim Fifer
1956 United States Coxed-Pair
Coxswain Kurt Seiffert, Stroke Conn Findlay, Bow Dan Ayrault
(photo by Duvall Hecht)

At the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, Stanford University in Northern California actually swept both Olympic pair events!

Along with Fifer and Hecht’s success in the coxless-pair, Stanford Freshman Coach Conrad Francis “Conn” Findlay, 6’6” 201 cm 198 lb. 90 kg, and undergraduates Arthur Delancey “Dan” Ayrault,1 6’4” 193 cm 190 lb. 86 kg, and coxswain Armin Kurt Seiffert2 also won in the coxed-pair.

Seiffert: “The Germans were heavy favorites. They had beaten us in the semifinals, although our second place finish qualified us for the finals.

“On finals day, the first race was the pair-without-coxswain. Our good friends, Jim Fifer and Dewey Hecht, won easily. They were back in the boathouse before we headed out to the course. They talked with us and just told us to go out and win.

“Determination made the difference. Conn and Dan were not to be denied. The first half of the race was even with the Germans, with Russia and Poland trailing. We slowly pulled ahead and won by a little over a boat length, three seconds.”3

Official Olympic Report: “The Polish and U.S.S.R. crews shared the lead in the early stages from U.S.A. and Germany, holders of the European Championship. Approaching the half-way mark the Americans were challenging Poland for the lead, and the German crew moved passed the Russians to third position. The Polish crew increased its rating in an effort to meet the American challenge, but failed and was then passed by the hard-finishing Germans, who failed to catch the U.S.A. crew, and the Russians who finished third.”4

Seiffert: “My memory of the awards ceremony is cloudy. It all seemed unreal. I’m told there were 40,000 people watching, but I don’t remember seeing any of them. I do remember the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and that they were playing it for us.”5


1956 Olympic Final, Coxed-Pair, Lake Wendouree
1 USA 8:26.1, 2 GER 8:29.2, 3 URS 8:31.0, 4 POL 8:31.5
Kurt Seiffert – “If you look closely, you’ll see a stick standing up from the rudder post behind me. George Pocock installed that while we were preparing for the Olympic races to try to get Conn from ‘scissoring’ across to port at the finish. The idea was for him to keep the top of the stick in line with the top of my head. It seemed to help, but the race officials were very distressed as they suspected this was some sort of illegal device to make the boat go faster!”
(photo from Public Record Office Victoria)

Duvall Hecht: “A word must be said about Kurt Seiffert, coxswain of the pair-with. Kurt is a wiry fellow from Stanford who stands six inches over five feet [168 cm] and normally weighs 130 pounds [59 kg]. The minimum Olympic weight for a coxswain is 110 pounds [50 kg], and six weeks before leaving Seattle, Kurt started his tedious and severe dieting. There wasn’t much on him to begin with, and Kurt, like most of us, likes his beefsteak and ice cream, his evening beer or afternoon milkshake. We all ate together at my home. Our training table was a deluxe affair, and Kurt sat uncomplainingly and good humouredly through meal after meal where the horses beefed up and he ate less and less . . . and less. When we left Seattle, he was a bare 113 pounds [51 kg]. And never a souring of disposition or a griping note was heard from Kurt.”6

Seiffert: “[After the final,] I celebrated by eating and eating and eating. The next day I weighed 117 and was back to my normal 128 within a couple of weeks.” 7


1956 United States Coxed-Pair
Olympic Champions, Ballarat
Coxswain Curt Seiffert, Stroke Conn Findlay 6’6” 201 cm 198 lb. 90 kg, Bow Dan Ayrault 6’4” 196 cm 190 lb. 86 kg
Findlay: -10°, +20° to -25°, 0-9, 0-9, 5-10, ferryman’s finish
Ayrault: -10°, +30° to -20°, 0-9, 0-9, 3-10, mild ferryman’s finish
(photo by John Cooke)

Their coach, Stan Pocock: “I did not get to go to Australia for the Games. Somebody had to run the shop, and Dad (being as he was there as rigger for the team) was able to take them under his wing. My only awareness as to what went on was through the daily letters that he sent me and then the telegram I received:

FIVE GOLD, THANKS A LOT
signed by the five men of the two pairs.

“I remember trying to poke my fist through the mold I was working on at the time.” 8

The favored West German pair of Horst Arndt, Karl-Heinrich Erich Moritz von Groddeck and lie-down coxswain Rainer Borkowsky from Rudergesellschaft Wiesbaden-Biebrich 1888 e.V. had won the 1956 European Championship in Bled, Yugoslavia over Switzerland and Austria. Von Groddeck would end up rowing in the 1960 Olympic Champion Ratzeburger Ruderklub eight under legendary coach Karl Adam. Adam and von Groddeck will be discussed at length in a later chapter.

Technique

The pullthrough was characterized by an abbreviated but very strong arcing back swing into a ferryman’s finish.9 These men were disciples of the teachings of George Pocock. Accordingly, the sculler’s catch and release were employed.

Training

Duvall Hecht described Findlay and Ayrault’s unorthodox training during the four months that both pairs spent in Seattle between the 1956 Olympic Trials and the Games in Australia: “It was common for the pair-with to arrive at Conibear Shellhouse at 0800, lunch bags and swim suits in hand. They would disappear towards Mercer Island [across Lake Washington], Kurt guiding them toward some interesting spot he had located on his city map. After four hours of rowing, they would camp on a likely looking residential lawn and eat their sandwiches, take a swim and curl up for a nap.” 10

Findlay, always a man of strong opinions on just about everything, remembers the details a bit differently: “We didn’t need swim suits. Rowing gear was enough. We were not south of the border. No time for naps . . . and Kurt Seiffert wasn’t called back to Seattle until the sand bags were getting too heavy.” 11


1956 U.S. Coxed-Pair
Olympic Champion, Lake Wendouree
Bow Dan Ayrault, Stroke Conn Findlay, Coxswain Kurt Seiffert, Coach George Pocock
(photo from 1956 Unites States Olympic Committee Report)

Seiffert: “Findlay is fantasizing about the sandbags in those days. They came along with Kent Mitchell, his coxswain for the 1960 and 1964 Olympics. Conn would always have preferred sandbags to sitting there looking at me, but I don’t remember a single day off or any delay in being ‘called back to Seattle.’

“We did row around Mercer Island once and stopped for lunch at Dan Ayrault’s sister’s home on the Island. We may have gone for a swim, but we never took a nap.” 12

Hecht: “One day they went out into Puget Sound through the government locks, and a trip to Tacoma was projected but never materialized.

“These workouts gave the pair-with great stamina and made them a smoother boat than they were in the Trials.” 13

Seiffert: “I’ll never forget George Pocock’s reaction when he first saw them row at Syracuse before the Trials in 1956. He just shook his head and said, ‘Oh, my!’

“That was George.” 14

Stan Pocock: “[Conn] was not a pretty oarsman, true enough, but was strong as a bull. At six feet seven inches, he had a tremendous reach.” 15

Findlay: “George Pocock said that the best oarsmen in the world had been the Thames professionals who rowed all day long, so he would meet us at the dock at 8:00 AM and return at 4:00 PM.

“I once asked the dumb question, ‘How hard should we row?’

“He said, ‘You’ll find out.’” 16

1956 Olympic Trials

Seiffert: “We traveled from California to Syracuse a full month before the Trials to get any additional coaching we could. We had had only one race before the Trials, and that was against the NYAC pair at Pelham Bay. Conn was convinced that a coxed-pair should never be rowed above a 28, but 500m from the finish of that race we were about four lengths behind. We won but only because of big rollers coming in from Long Island Sound that almost capsized our competition. Needless to say, a little higher stroke rate was installed.” 17

Rowing News, describing the Olympic Trials: “Don Ayrault and Conn Findlay with Kurt Seiffert as coxswain beat Detroit, Princeton and the Fairmount R.A. in that order in 9:01.1. 18

Stan Pocock: “Findlay, Ayrault and Seiffert had been extremely lucky to win their event at the Trials. The coxed-pair rowing for the Detroit Boat Club19 were good enough to have beaten them nine times out of ten, but the Olympics were not until November so there was plenty of time for both the Findlay boat and the coxless-pair of Fifer and Hecht to get better, and they asked me to help them.

“I must say, both improved that summer and headed out to Australia with high hopes.” 20

Seiffert: “With the intense coaching from the Trials in June to the Olympics in November, I calculated that Conn and Dan improved their 2,000m time by 30 seconds, about ten lengths.

“I kept a log of our workouts. I recorded 2,000 miles in 322 workouts before we left for Australia. Until Fifer and Hecht came along, these were almost all unaccompanied.” 21

Conn Findlay

Findlay: “I had started rowing with Coach Bob Hillen during my senior year at USC in 1953-4.

“I then became Freshman Coach at Stanford. Lou Lindsey was the Varsity Coach, and when he went on to Navy in 1959, I became the Stanford Varsity Coach.” 22

Rusty Wailes, fellow Olympic rower in 1956: “[Conn is] the only man I ever lost on an airplane between Honolulu and Melbourne. We saw him get on the plane, but not long after takeoff there was no sign of him.


Conn Findlay
(photo from www.rowinghistory.net)

“We looked in the overhead rack, the bathroom, the pilot’s cabin, everywhere. And finally we gave up on him.

“Five minutes after we landed at Melbourne, he comes off the plane and we got the story. You know he’s a big fellow, and he likes his comfort. What he did was unbolt a panel leading to the cargo hold and stretched out there for a long sleep.” 23

Dick Lyon, who rowed under Conn at Stanford from 1958 to 1961: “Findlay was not only amazingly strong, he also was amazingly tough. There are hundreds of stories – one was something about him putting up a temporary building single-handed in Kansas, collapsing from a flu bug or something, waking up in the hospital, checking himself out immediately, and going back and finishing the building.

“Many times he managed single-handedly to maneuver three hundred pound eights from the floor of the Stanford boathouse up onto the fourth rack!

“I used to watch him carry down his 35-horsepower outboard motor on one shoulder with a five-gallon gas can in the other hand the hundreds of feet from the boathouse to the dock. It took at least two of us rowers to do the same job.” 24

Load in Pocock Coxed-Pairs

In those simpler days, George Pocock built virtually every boat in every single boathouse in all of North America, from singles to eights, and despite coxed-pairs being the slowest and heaviest of all rowing events, his coxed-pairs had the same oar length, the same collar placement, and the same rigger spread as all his other sweep boats up to his eights.

Bill Tytus, current president of Pocock Racing Shells: “The spread was always the same. The oars were always the same. The difference was where the oarlocks were placed fore and aft, and they moved around an inch per boat, as I recollect. The pair had their oarlock pins even with the shoulders [at the stern end of the track]. The pins for the four were one inch further forward [toward the bow], and in eight the pins were two and a half inches forward of the shoulders.” 25

Findlay: “With Pocock’s rigging, the blades were in different places relative to the oarsmen at the catch, mid-drive and release in a pair and in an eight.” 26

Tytus: “Later when they got to Tokyo in 1964, the Japanese being Japanese were measuring everything. They measured all the oars and all the boats, and they soon found a mismatch in our pair’s riggers.

“Pocock boats back then were built with the stroke man rowing port. Since Conn rowed starboard, he didn’t give it a thought and just switched the riggers, but since the hull is widest at the bow seat and tapers toward the stern, the starboard rigger [intended for the bow seat] had been built narrower than the port rigger [intended for the stroke seat]. Switching the riggers gave Conn even less than the standard spread for an eight and Ed a bit more, but Conn couldn’t care less about an inch here or there.

“But the Japanese kept asking him what was wrong. Was the bow man weaker?” 27

Lyon: “On the oarlock spread, Conn said it really didn’t make much difference. If you want a centimeter more inboard, just move your hands a little further out on the oar handle.” 28

Tytus: “Years later, German coach Karl Adam had riggers built to be adjustable and changed the spread between boats, the slower the event, the wider the spread. He wanted the load to feel about the same, but George’s approach might have been more sophisticated.” 29

Perhaps, but the load, the leverage at perpendicular to the hull in a coxed-pair in those days was the same as in eights, and with six less people to share the work. It took big, strong men like Conn Findlay to row a Pocock coxed-pair in the 1950s.

Fellow Olympian Ted Nash: “There’s a heck of a lot of difference between the load on the body in a straight four, like I rowed, which is flying along at sub-6:00 pace30, and in a pair-with, which is basically a full wheelbarrow. The loads were incredibly heavy.

“Findlay and his partners rowed at 32 because they really couldn’t row any higher than that, except for a short burst.

“What Conn was was a heavy, hard worker who could go on forever. He had endurance, and that is understated!

“At 6’7”, Conn was naturally a very strong man, but his strong suit wasn’t coordination. He hated straight fours. He hated straight pairs. He didn’t like the single until his later years. He was perfectly suited to the coxed-pair. He loved the coxswain because his weight kept the boat stable.” 31

Counterpoint from Findlay: “The coxswain’s weight kept the boat stable? Ted should check a sit-up coxed-pair.

“And I have more miles under my keel in singles than any other shell.” 32

Lake Washington Rowing Club

Findlay: “In 1955, we told George Pocock we’d buy a boat from him if he’d coach us, but he preferred that his son Stan do the coaching, though he was there all the time. He said that Stan had a way of putting things that might be more meaningful than his own choice of words. He was the Englishman, and Stan was the American kid.

“So they both coached us, but Stan Pocock was our coach.

“We’d go up to Seattle at Christmas time and over the summer. Of course, in those days George was still the National Team boatman, so we always had him, too, when we were racing, and that helped.” 33

Ed Ferry, Conn’s pair partner 1961-1964: “Stan Pocock is a very quiet, wonderful man and the most successful USA Olympic rowing coach ever.

“He once told me if he ever started yelling as a coach he would quit. He also said to a bragging medal winner, ‘All an Olympic Gold Medal shows is that at one day in time you were the fastest in the world . . . sitting down going backwards doing something absolutely useless!’

“He coached us without pay for a decade.” 34

Seiffert: “Our coaching before the 1956 Trials was unique. Every couple of weeks we would get someone to come out in a launch from the Redwood City boathouse and take 16mm movies of them rowing. We would then mail the film to Stan Pocock in Seattle, who would return long letters describing what they were doing wrong and what to do about it.” 35

Conn’s request for coaching was the beginning of what would evolve a few years later into the Lake Washington Rowing Club.

Findlay as a Teammate

Looking back on Conn Findlay’s rowing career from the perspective of the 21st Century, he is considered a lovable if irascible icon and a national treasure.

Seiffert: “In describing Conn’s personality, his generosity and loving friendship should not be overlooked. For as long as I can remember, my wife Pam has received a valentine from him every year. I suspect Kent Mitchell’s wife, Joann, and others have received one as well. At Conn’s wedding reception after marrying Lou, Pam asked if this meant she wouldn’t get a valentine any more. His reply was, ‘You’re not the first one to ask.’

“She still gets her valentine.” 36

However, Conn could also be domineering, inflexible and judgmental, and he never compromised in his quest for excellence.

He chose for his pair partners exceptional athletes, and then he demanded they exceed all previous expectations. That had begun with Dan Ayrault.

Dan Ayrault

Findlay: “My 1956 Olympic pair-partner, Dan Ayrault, was the captain of the Stanford Crew when I arrived, and he was a great man. Later, he started Lake Washington Rowing Club.

“After we had won in 1956, Dan won another Gold in 1960 for Lake Washington in the straight-four, and the last thing he was trying was the eight in 1964, again at Lake Washington.” 37

Nash: “Dan Ayrault was a brilliant, artistic and sensitive man – a real man in so many ways.” 38

Ayrault will be described in greater detail in the following chapter.

Dick Draeger

Rowing in a boat with Conn Findlay could be a stressful undertaking for some. By his second Olympiad in Rome, not only had Ayrault moved on to the Lake Washington Rowing Club coxless-four, but Seiffert was coxing the LWRC Olympic entry in the coxed-four.

Having lost his 1956 partner and two subsequent partners in the meantime, Findlay simply recruited from his Stanford squad 6’6” 201 cm 185 lb. 84 kg Richard Arthur Draeger.

Draeger: “I have a vivid memory of the night in late September or early October of 1959 when my fiancé Loree, Conn and I sat in the living room of the home where Loree worked when she was not attending the Stanford Nursing School, and the three of us decided to try to get to the Olympic Games in Rome. We talked about what it would take, not the least of which was changing the date of our wedding by moving it from June to March, 1960 so it wouldn’t conflict with the Olympic Trials. Loree must have loved me and/or Conn a lot, because she agreed to do it.

“Conn converted from starboard to port to be able to row with me. It is true that many oarsmen can row either side, but not often at the international level, and not during the 1950s, when training methods were much less sophisticated than they are today.” 39

Technique

Their technique was similar to that of the 1956 coxed-pair, with a slightly diminished amount of back swing, especially during their later racing at the Olympics when the decision was made to lift the rating in order to try to be more competitive with the German and Soviet crews.

The objective was to get as much physical effort into each pullthrough and as much run into each recovery. This was not a graceful boat. There was a lot of levering going on, and Draeger’s force curve was assertive rather than elegant.


1960 United States Coxed-Pair
Olympic Bronze Medal, Lago di Albano
Stroke Dick Draeger 6’6” 201 cm 185 lb. 84 kg, Bow Conn Findlay 6’6” 201 cm 198 lb. 90 kg, Coxswain Kent Mitchell
Draeger: 0°, +25° to -15°, 0-9, 0-9, 0-10 slip catch, ferryman’s finish
Findlay: -10°, +30° to -10°, 0-9, 0-9, 5-10 slip catch, ferryman’s finish
(photo by Ted Nash)

Lie-Down Coxswains

International rowing had been evolving quickly during the 1950s, as Yale’s eight learned on Lake Wendouree in 1956. The coxed-pair event was also changing, both in speed and in configuration. In 1956, as can be seen in the accompanying photo, the second-place German crew had carried their coxswain lying down in the bow instead of sitting up in the stern.

By 1960, George Pocock announced that the coxed-pair he was building for use by the U.S. representative in that year’s Olympics would also have its coxswain in the front.


Dick Draeger
In general, force application was Schubschlag with obvious emphasis on back effort.
(photo by author)

As with most changes in rowing, the benefits of lie-down coxswains came at a price. The center of gravity was lower, improving balance, and the coxswain now had an uninterrupted view forward, but that view was very close to water level, which made reading wakes a challenge.

In addition, because his rowers were behind him, it was more difficult for the coxswain to coach or communicate strategy with them. However, if Conn Findlay had mixed feelings about the new boat set-up, this particular issue was not one of his concerns.


1956 Olympic Coxed-Pair Final, Lake Wendouree
The Americans start to pull away from the Germans with their lie-down coxswain.
(photo from www.rrk-online.de)

Lyon: “Coxswains were told not to say anything at all except to give the stroke rate after 20 strokes, tell them their position and stroke rate at each 500 meters, let them know when there were 20 strokes to go, and don’t call it too soon or too late. Conn wanted exactly 20 strokes.

“Basically steer straight and keep quiet.”40

Findlay, in 1960: “I can see no advantage to [lie-down coxswains]. If I was ordering a boat, I’d want a standard rig. We really didn’t have a choice this year. The Vespers ordered a boat with the coxswain forward, and the Olympic shell was made that way, too.” 41


What goes on here?
Reclining Coxswain Kent Mitchell steers in the bow in this switch from the traditional stern seat for coxies in a George Pocock creation manned by stroke Dick Dreager [sp] and bow Conn Findlay as a Lake Washington Rowing Club entry in the U.S. Olympic Trials beginning on Onondaga Lake today.
(photo from The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York)

Kent Mitchell

The Stanford Varsity coxswain in 1960, Henry Kent Mitchell II, kept a training diary during his competitive rowing career. His marvelous journals and scrapbooks, from which I have excerpted extensively in this and following chapters, provide a unique window into the high-tension world of Olympic-level rowing.

Mitchell: “April, 1960. Conn Findlay and Dick Draeger have been training in the pair-with since January. Still no cox; using sandbags (120 pounds). Have made myself available and am sure they’ll ask me to go to Syracuse for the Olympic Trials. Conn rebuilt the 1956 pair to have cox in bow. Have sort of been his dummy whenever he needed measurements.” 42

Mitchell got the word during May, 1960 that he had been chosen by Findlay and Draeger to steer them, but the decision was kept quiet until the college season was over. In June, the pair went up to Seattle to train with Lake Washington Rowing Club. Before leaving for the East Coast, they won the LWRC team time trial by three lengths.


1960 Lake Washington Coxed-Pair
Winners, U.S. Olympic Trials, Onondaga Lake
(photo from A.P. Wirephoto)

1960 Olympic Trials

Mitchell: “Syracuse, July 8-9, 1960. Arrived here a week early. Drove with Dick and Kurt Seiffert, cox for the four. Conn drove a truck and trailer with all the club’s boats. 3-day trip in all. Conn had a fever when he arrived, but went rowing immediately just the same. Shocked the onlookers by taking off from the dock at a 30; Conn said they’d all grab their watches and gawk – They did!

“Rule 3 – Always psych the opposition if you can.

“Terrific headwinds here on Onondaga. Crews to beat are Vesper [coxed by Allen Rosenberg43], Old Dominion [the Amlong brothers44] and Riverside [Charlie Grimes45 and Sy Cromwell46]. Hot tip is that Vesper’s boat did a 7:26 in Philly last week.

“Won our first heat against Riverside, so go straight to the finals. Vesper won, too. Our time was the fastest, but that means nothing with this headwind. Also, we trailed Riverside for the first 500 – never saw a boat move so fast off the blocks. Course, their last 500 didn’t amount to much, and we won by 13 seconds, about 4 lengths.

“Theory is to forget about them in the first 500, watch them closely in the second 500, get within one length of them in the third, and race them in the last 500 when they don’t have anything left.

“Led from stroke 1 of the final and without sprinting won by 5 lengths in the slow time of 8:46. The wind was roaring from finish to start, and this completely wiped out the lighter boats. Ten strokes off the starting blocks it was obvious that the long low stroke would win. Conn saw we were ahead and told Dick to knock it down to 28. We did and took off from the pack immediately.” 47

The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York: “The classy Lake Washington pair of Conn Findlay and Dick Draeger, riding their cox (Henry Mitchell) up in the bow, scored a smashing five-length victory over the Undine-Vesper tandem. Third was the Riverside crew, with Old Dominion last. The Far Westerners led all the way, enjoying a three-length lead at the halfway mark.” 48

1Lake Washington8:37.7
2Vesper-Undine8:50.6
3Riverside8:54.1
4Old Dominion9:07.1
The first three boats to cross the line in the final had their coxswains up front.

Lago di Albano

Lyon: “When they got to Rome, they heard a rumor about getting sick from bad water, so Conn took a drink from a nearby hose soon after they arrived, saying, ‘If we’re going to get sick, might as well get it over with before the races.’” 49

Mitchell: “August 17, 1960. Our pair was first shell to get onto Albano, a beautiful clear lake set in an extinct volcano. Wind swirls down crater slope and around circularly on the lake, creating a strong tailwind on the 2,000 meter course. This has upset Draeger no end. He feels the high-stroking crews who are normally cut out of contention in a headwind will have the advantage in this tailwind.” 50


1960 United States Coxed-Pair
Olympic Bronze Medal, Lago di Albano
Bow Conn Findlay 6’6” 201 cm 198 lb. 90 kg, Coxswain Kent Mitchell, Stroke Dick Draeger 6’6” 201 cm 185 lb. 84 kg
1 GER 7:29.14, 2 URS 7:30.17, 3 USA 7:34.58, 4 DEN, 5 ITA, 6 ROM
(photo from ucirowing.org)

Two Racing Philosophies

Indeed, a strong influence on European racing strategy in the 1950s had been toward the Moscow Style, which was described in 1962 by Soviet National Coach Evgeni Samsonov: “Our style usually depends on our opponents. We mostly open the race very fast – today at about 42 strokes per minute. We try for a [pace] so high that others cannot overtake us. If this is possible, you control the remainder of the race, then you can adjust. Rowing is all in the start.” 51

Not only did most Soviet and Eastern Bloc crews follow this pattern, but, as will be discussed in a later chapter, some West German crews were developing their own version. In addition, Britain and Italy had rowed that way for decades.

This was also a personal issue for Conn Findlay. In 1956, Findlay and Ayrault, rowing long and low, had rowed down a Polish pair that had blasted off the line and led them down the course.

In fact, the very same issue had been resonating throughout world rowing for forty years. In 1920, the United States Eight from the U.S. Naval Academy rowed down a faster-starting British boat that had led them for 1,900 meters. In 1936, The U.S. Eight from the University of Washington had to rally in the final strokes to overhaul Italy and Germany. Joe Burk would cede open water to his every opponent between 1937 and 1940 before passing them in the second half of the race course on his way to numerous national titles and two consecutive victories in the Diamond Sculls. In 1956, it was Yale University rowing down higher stroking Australia and Canada.

The two racing philosophies had been at odds since early in the century: blast off the line, row high and hard and hope to burn off your competition before you collapsed yourself versus row even splits, row low rating and sweep past your fading competition in the last 500.

The Vilnius Pair

Speaking German on the bus from the Olympic Village to the rowing course, Kent Mitchell struck up a friendship with the Soviet coxed-pair rowers, bow-man Antanas Bagdonavicius and stroke Zigmas Jukna, both from RK Vilnius Zalgiris in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania. They would later row 6 and 7 in the Zalgiris eight that won the Championship Eights event at the Independence Day Regatta in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1962.

Their coxswain in Rome, Igor Rudakov, an ethnic Russian from St. Petersburg, doubled as their coach, and he was also coaching and coxing the Soviet coxed-four.

Rudakov did not speak German.

Mitchell: “August 19, 1960. Met the Russian pair on other side of lake. After 4 or so minutes of small talk, the Russian stroke asked if we might like to go 500 meters right then. We all agreed & I said let’s go for 2 minutes, which is about the time for 500 meters. At this, their trainer cox caught on and called an abrupt halt to our plans. This was the first time they had rowed their new pair & he felt it would be better to wait until tomorrow.

“Unfortunately, we are planning to go 2,000m tomorrow and told them we would be too tired to go 500 with them also. They understood & in reply asked us to tell them our time & they in turn would tell us their first time trial. We all agreed on this and will do it, I’m sure.

August 20, 1960. Our time this morning was 7:46.8, which is not bad at all considering our layoff.

“We got a good look at the German oarsmen & their shovel-blade oars today. Also saw the Italian pair with. They rowed about 36 strokes per minute and didn’t miss water at all. They will be right in there fighting for the goodies with the rest of us fools.

August 21, 1960. “I remained with my Russian friend who strokes the pair-with. I like him more each time we talk together. We discussed high stroking versus low stroking, and he even drew a simple graph, meters/second vs. time, and indicated the high stroking crew would average a higher m/s. He couldn’t seem to see, however, that much more is taken from a man who strokes higher and that his efficiency declines rapidly enough to cancel his earlier success.

August 23, 1960. Our first heat [scheduled for August 31] will include six boats. There are 18 pairs-with altogether. The winners of the first 3 heats go directly to the final. The losers fight through repêchages to decide which 3 of the other countries will gain a final berth. In our heat there are Russia, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Greece. I feel we can win this and the final from what I’ve seen of our competition.

August 24, 1960. Time trial day today. Conditions in morning were very still for first 1,000 and an increasingly brisk tailwind for last 1,000. Our time was 7:35.5, which we all feel is good enough to beat these other crews here.

August 26, 1960. Time trial, no wind compared to Wednesday morning, time 7:36.5, which is moving very well for a pair-with.

“Russian lads clocked us quite accurately at 7:37. They seemed quite impressed, and I feel we’ll be able to take them easily if we can get one length on them with 500 meters to go.

“Was told today that the Italian papers pick Germany first, USA second and Russia third in the pair-with competition. Dick has calmed down since we’ve turned in two consecutive respectable times.

August 28, 1960. Tension is mounting.

August 29, 1960. The wind came up for the first time in 10 days and resulted in a headwind for the first 1,000 and a messy tailwind in the last 1,000. In the last 500 meters I called a wake off the starboard when I meant port; although I corrected myself almost immediately, Findlay became quite upset.

“This dieting is hitting me from all angles. I even had trouble adding 17 and 22 to figure out what the clock would read when there was 1 and 1/2 minutes to go in the time trial. Our time, despite all this, was a respectable 7:38.8, so I’m still not too worried about our chances.

“This afternoon, Stan impressed upon us how very important it will be for us to race our own race and pick up what the other crews are doing when we reach the 1,000 meter mark and not before!

August 30, 1960. We went 1,000 meters just to see how the windy conditions would affect out total time for the first 1,000. We did 3:54.5, which was 4.5 seconds slower than it usually is. At least we found out that the tailwind conditions which create rough water do us harm, while we know they’ll help the European oars-off-the-water high stroking crews.” 52

The Heats

Heats for the first group of events was held during the afternoon of August 30, and Mitchell and the others watched with great interest. The Lake Washington coxed-four came in a close second in their heat, but ten of the twenty-one boats in the entire field posted faster times than theirs. The Soviets, the fastest of all, were nearly eleven seconds quicker than the U.S. boat, almost five seconds faster in the first 500 alone!

Then the LWRC coxless-pair came in second in its heat with the sixth fastest time of the eighteen boat field. Again, the Soviets led the way with a time five seconds faster than the Americans.

Finally, American single sculler Harry Parker came in third in his heat with the fourth-best of the thirteen times recorded. The Soviet defending champion, Vyacheslav Ivanov, won his heat by ten seconds in the second fastest time overall. He was nearly five seconds quicker than Parker.

A pattern was evident. Except for Ivanov, who only took the lead in the second 500 of his heat, each Soviet boat had led from the gun and won as they pleased.

Mitchell: “August 30, 1960 (continued). At this point, I was scared. There could no longer be any question about whether or not the Europeans are fast. Believe me, they are!

“Hit the rack about 10 and raced the race once or twice before falling asleep.

August 31, 1960 [the day of the coxed-pair heats]. Had one poached egg for breakfast and headed to dear old Albano. I noticed the wind was blowing and naively hoped it would be calm at the lake. No such luck. The waves were up, and the wind was flying straight down the course, just the way the high strokers like it.

“In fact, as we climbed off the bus, I mentioned to the Russian pair-with stroke that the wind was really blowing. He replied, ‘Ja, es ist gut fur uns, aber fur euch, weiss ich nicht.53

“How right he was.

“At the start they lined us up, and on ‘Partez!’ off we and five others went. Russia led right off the blocks and by 1,000 meters was 15 seconds ahead. Czechoslovakia, too, moved out about 3 lengths, but we passed them by the 1,250 meter mark. However, these Ruskies, rowing their 32 beat, by now were still 14 seconds ahead. I told Conn and Dick all this as they took meter after meter on us, but with the weather conditions, we never did get the boat moving well.

“Then it began to click, but we were too late. In the next 500 meters we gained back 6 seconds, and Russia won by 8 seconds over us. Their time was an astounding 7:31.70, ours 7:39.50.” 54

Finish times of the three coxed-pair heats suggested that the Soviet winners of the first heat and the West German club crew from Ruderverein Gelsenkirchen, near Essen, that won the third heat were head and shoulders above everyone else. These two plus Romania, the winner of a slow Heat 2, advanced directly to the final.

Stan Pocock: “We Americans found that we’re real green peas. The Europeans race every week for months. Then when the Olympics roll around, they’re ready.

“Every country except Germany puts its best oarsmen in the small boats, and Germany has got so many good ones, you can’t tell their best from their worst.” 55

Mitchell: “August 31, 1960 (continued). On calm water we can row 7:35, I’m sure. I don’t believe they can as they won’t have the help of the tailwind. If we get past tomorrow’s repêchage and qualify for Saturday’s final, I will be praying for the return of decent weather conditions.

“Our repechage is with four other crews, and Uruguay, last year’s Pan Am champs, is the one to beat. They rowed a 7:38 today and led Germany to the 1,000. After this, they folded and took third. We have the lane right next to them so will certainly feel their presence in the first 500 meters anyway.

“We’re changing our race pattern somewhat. We’ll stroke 36 to the 1,000 and try to put it to them early in the race. At least we should be with them when they fold; we’re gambling, but we have no choice. If they can outlast us, we shouldn’t be in the finals anyway.

The Repechage

September 1, 1960. As far as racing is concerned, today was the most exciting and frightening I’ve ever experienced.

“We had to win our repêchage to qualify for Saturday’s final. Our plan for the race was to sprint the first 1,000 meters and hope for the best.

“We tested ourselves this morning and discovered that without the help of the wind we could do a 1:48.2 first 500. Yesterday, Russia did 1:45.6 while we were doing 1:53.6. We can’t be left behind like that at the start and expect to be in front at the finish. Hence the change in our race pattern.

“On the line today were Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Uruguay and the USA. On the familiar ‘Etes-vous pret? Partez!’ we tore away from the blocks at a 40 and even went as high as 41 in the first fifteen strokes. Then we held it up to 39 until we passed the 500 meter mark. At this point, Uruguay shifted from its 36 to a surprising 31 and began to increase its lead to more than a quarter-length.

“We maintained a 36 [and] they continued pulling away at 31. At the 1,000 we shifted to 34, and they were 1 and 1/4 lengths ahead.

“I must admit now that at the 1,100 meter mark I did ask myself, ‘Is it all going to end this way?’

“For an instant I almost felt defeat. However, I knew we were still in there and should keep the pressure on until they might crack.

“They continued to move away and were about 1 and 1/2 lengths ahead by the 1,500.

“At 250 meters to go, I shouted something like, ‘Keep it on, Conn, Dick! They’re going to fold now.’ I also called 35 strokes to go, and at this point [Uruguay] began to falter.

“With about 25 strokes to go they were obviously dying, and we were only one length back.

“The Uruguayans almost stopped. They just had nothing left in them, and we picked up six seconds on them in the last six boat lengths of the 2,000 meters.

“When we stopped, Conn squeezed my head like it was a cantaloupe he was testing and remarked, ‘Real good job of coxing, Mitch.’

“Coming from Conn, this really sounded good.” 56

Associated Press: “The Seattle pair-with-coxswain came from behind to beat Uruguay. The time was 7:39 flat with Uruguay finishing 7:45.02. The United States crew hung back until the 1,700 meter mark, then pushed the stroke up to 41 a minute to win.” 57

Georg Meyers, Sports Editor of The Seattle Times: “Dick Draeger, Conn Findlay and Kent Mitchell, cox, appear dubious threats to the German and Russian pairs in the final. The Yanks already had lost to the Russians in a preliminary heat and appeared out of contention in their repechage when front-running Uruguay folded in the last 100 meters.” 58

Italy and Denmark also advanced to the final by winning their respective repêchages, both in times within one second of the United States. Add in Romania, and it appeared there would be four near-equal crews, including the U.S., in the final fighting for the Bronze Medal.

Mitchell: “September 2, 1960. This afternoon there was a headwind, and quite strong, too. That’s the first time it’s ever blown so here, and of course we’re hoping it will hold through tomorrow’s races as it gives our stronger, heavier oarsmen an advantage over the featherweight high-stroking crews.

“We received a Lane 1 drawing and have Germany in Lane 2 and Russia in Lane 3.

The Final

September 3, 1960. We made it to the starting line and after one false start, occasioned by my Russian friend [Zigmas Jukna], we blasted off at our recently adopted beat of 40.

“At the 500 we shifted to 35, and both Russia and Germany were 2 lengths ahead. We were actually sixth and remained so until the 1,000 meter mark.” 59


1960 Olympic Men’s Coxed-Pair Final, Lago di Albano
(Above) Soviet Union, RK Vilnius Zalgiris, Lithuania, Silver Medal, Bow Antanas Bagdonavicius 6’2” 187 cm 187 lb. 85 kg, Stroke Zigmas Jukna 6’0” 184 cm 190 lb. 86 kg, Coxswain Igor Rudakov
(Below) West Germany, Ruderverein Gelsenkirchen, Olympic Champion Coxswain Klaus Zerta, Bow Karl-Heinz Renneberg, 6’0” 182 cm 192 lb. 87kg, Stroke Bernhard Knubel, 6’5” 195 cm 194 lb. 88 kg
(photo from Official Report of the XVII Olympiad)

500m:
1URS1:45.91
2GER1:46.87
3DEN1:48.54
4USA1:49.45
5ROM1:50.22
5ITA1:51.4860

Mitchell: “I wasn’t concerned, however, since we were never more than 3/4 of a length behind the Danes, the third place crew during this period of the race.

“At the 1,000, Russia and Germany were 10 seconds ahead, and the Danes were even with us.” 61

1,000m:
1GER3:37.48
2URS3:37.91
3DEN3:44.80
4ROM3:45.32
5ITA3:45.72
5USA3:48.19

Draeger: “I remember Conn telling me at about 900 meters to go that we were last and had to start to sprint. I have no memory of any part of that race from that point on, and I have never hurt so much before or since.” 62

1,500m:
1GER5:31.98
2URS5:34.02
3DEN5:43.57
4USA5:44.61
5ITA5:45.75
5ROM5:47.51

Mitchell: “We pulled away from the Danes and began slowly whittling at the awesome margin between us and the two lead boats.

“We did quite well, and with 35 strokes to go were only about 4 seconds behind Russia, who trailed Germany by 1 second.

“Unfortunately for us, Russia held us off, and we finished there.” 63

2,000m:
1GER7:29.14
2URS7:30.17
3USA7:34.58
4DEN7:39.20
5ITA7:40.92
5ROM7:49.57

Draeger: “I do not remember the medal ceremony or whether we got out of the boat or not. I have seen some pictures, but to this day, I still have no recollection of anything after Conn spoke those words at 900 to go.” 64

The New York Times: “In pairs with coxswain, the American entry came from far back at 1,500 meters, finished behind Germany and the Soviet Union and won the Bronze Medal. The coxswain was in the bow of the boat. It was the first time he was so placed in an American boat in an international race.” 65

Beaverton (Oregon) Valley Times: “Beaverton’s Kent Mitchell got a Bronze Medal in the Olympics at Rome.

“‘He was very happy to have gotten that much,’ said his mother, Mrs. Andy Mitchell. ‘It was rough. They (the other teams) were that much better.’

“Kent told his parents that the American two-man crew did as well or better than it had ever done before. ‘He had never seen anything so fast over here,’ she said.


1960 Olympic Coxed-Pair Final, Lago di Albano
1 GER 7:29.14, 2 URS 7:30.17, 3 USA 7:34.58, 4 DEN 7:39.20, 5 ITA 7:40.92, 6 ROM 7:49.57
The German (left) and Soviet crews have crossed the finish at the Americans approach.
(photo by Ted Nash)

“The U.S. team represented the Lake Washington Rowing Club. A spokesman at the club said before the Olympics that on the basis of the performance of teams from other countries, it would be a miracle if the U.S. team reached the finals, Mrs. Mitchell said.” 66

Mitchell: “September 3, 1960 (continued). “Following the races, there was much talk about the future, which seems to be foremost in most everyone’s minds after today’s shellacking. What was being tossed about was what we’ll have to do in America to keep pace in rowing with these Europeans. It’s all a matter of competition. In Germany there are no less than 300 rowing clubs. Why, with such competition, their entries will always be hard to beat.

“Conn talked as if he might try to better this year’s Bronze in ’64. I wonder if I should keep it in mind...” 67

Draeger: “My relationship with Conn was positive from start to finish. The reasons that I quit rowing after the 1960 Games were:

1. I had to report for to the Army for active duty in early 1961, and the Army was not willing to assign me to athletic duty.
2. Loree was pregnant with our first child.
3. My financial circumstances were such that if I wanted to eat regularly and feed my wife and coming family, rowing would not suffice.

“The opportunity that Conn gave to Loree and me was life-changing. I will be eternally grateful.”68

A Bronze Medal to add to his 1956 Gold, but Conn Findlay was not finished by a long shot.

Look for Part II, coming soon to row2k


1pronounced “A-row.”
2pronounced “Sigh-fert.”
3http://wiki.prov.vic.gov.au/index.php /Rowing_Pair_Oar_With_Cox_1956-11-27
4XVI Olympiad Melbourne 1956
5http://wiki.prov.vic.gov.au/index.php /Rowing_Pair_Oar_With_Cox_1956-11-27
6Duvall Hecht, The Saga of the Pairs-With and -Without Coxswain, Rowing News, December 1956, p. 16
7http://wiki.prov.vic.gov.au/index.php /Rowing_Pair_Oar_With_Cox_1956-11-27
8S. Pocock, personal correspondence, 2009
9the technique of using the arms to pull the upper body back towards vertical toward the end of the pullthrough, already a common term in the 19th Century. This technique has been controversial in some quarters, but it is a fundamental part of the Pocock Stroke.
10Duvall Hecht, The Saga of the Pairs-With and -Without Coxswain, Rowing News, December 1956, p. 15
11Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
12Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
13Duvall Hecht, The Saga of the Pairs-With and -Without Coxswain, Rowing News, December 1956, p. 15
14Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
15S. Pocock, p. 123
16Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
17Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
18USA Olympic Tryout Winners and National Champions, Rowing News, December 1956, p. 10
19Under Coach Walter Hoover, Sr., Detroit won the Olympic Trials in the coxless-four and double and came in second in the coxed-pair. With the same nine athletes, Detroit had led Yale University for 1,500 meters in the opening heats of the eights before withdrawing to concentrate on the small boats. Yale went on to win the Eights Trials and the Olympics.
20S. Pocock in correspondence to Eric Cohen of www.huskycrew.org.
21Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
22Findlay, personal conversation, 2005
23qtd, by Zander Hollander, Olympian’s One Goal: Tokyo Special, New York World-Telegram and Sun, August 28, 1964
24Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
25Tytus, in conversation with Findlay, 2007
26Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
27Tytus, personal conversation, 2009
28Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
29Bill Tytus, in conversation with Conn Findlay, 2007
30“When Nash was rowing the straight four, it didn’t ‘fly along at a sub-6:00 pace.’ That was later. His 1960 four in Rome was about a 6:24 crew, and in 1964 we rowed 6:23.1 at the Trials and may have gotten a few seconds faster, but could only hold sub 6:00 pace for 500 meters or so. In 1956, Conn’s pair-with rowed about a 7:50 pace. By 1960, they were rowing sub-7:40 and in 1964 about a 7:24 pace.” – Dick Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
31Nash, personal conversation, 2004
32Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
33Findlay, personal conversation, 2005
34Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
35Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
36Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
37Findlay, personal conversation, 2005
38Nash, personal correspondence, 2006
39Draeger, personal correspondence, 2008
40Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
41The Post-Standard, July 11, 1960
42Mitchell Journal
43later coach of the 1964 Vesper eight.
44later in the 1964 Vesper eight.
45from the 1956 Olympic Champion Yale Eight.
46later in the 1964 Olympic Double.
47Mitchell Journal
48The Post-Standard, July 10, 1960
49Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
50Mitchell Journal
51William Lanouette, The Volga Boatmen, 1963 Rowing Guide, NAAO, p. 126
52Mitchell journal
53Mitchell journal “Yes, it’s good for us, but for you, I don’t know.”
54Mitchell journal
55qtd. by Georg N. Meyers, U.S. Crews Need ‘Miracle’ – Pocock, The Seattle Times, September 3, 1960
56Mitchell journal
57U.S. Rowers Win Five Repechages, Associated Press, September 1, 1960
58Georg N. Meyers, U.S. Crews Need ‘Miracle’ – Pocock, The Seattle Times, September 3, 1960
59Mitchell journal
60Intermediate splits, even today, can be quite inaccurate, but this is what the officials recorded.
61Mitchell journal
62Draeger, personal correspondence, 2009
63Mitchell journal
64Draeger, personal correspondence, 2009
65Allison Danzig, German Eight Triumphs, With Navy Finishing Fifth, The New York Times, September 4, 1960
66Beaverton Valley Times, September 4, 1960
67Mitchell journal
68Draeger, personal correspondence, 2009


Comments

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number8
01/04/2010  1:38:38 PM
A fascinating story, well told. I look forward to hearing more. Iron men, wooden boats.



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