row2k Features
Peter Mallory's 'The Sport of Rowing'
Conn Findlay: Conn is Conn - Part II
January 11, 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 II:

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

Read Part I here.

Edward Payson Ferry

Mitchell: “Conn Findlay rowed two-man shells for five years before he found a partner who could stand him for more than one season.

“By 1961, Conn had exhausted four partners. In the process, he’d garnered a Gold Medal in the ‘56 and a Bronze in the ‘60 Olympics. After Rome’s third place, Conn was thirty years old, noticeably graying and desperately needed a fresh, young oarsman to pull him through another four years. Ed Ferry, then a naïve 19-year-old 6’4” [196 cm 196 lb. 89 kg] sophomore at Stanford University, fit the need perfectly.” 69

Ferry: “As a college sophomore in 1961 with only one year of rowing experience, Conn Findlay asked me to row a pair with him, which we did for the next four years. I could not believe it.

“The chance of a lifetime!

“In our first month of rowing the pair together, Conn turned to me once and said, ‘You’ll have to row harder than that.’

“I knew that was the last time I would get to hear that sentence, as the next time I would be gone.”70

Dick Lyon: “Ed Ferry was a fantastic athlete. He actually got into Stanford on a football scholarship and then decided to row instead of playing football.

“Conn was not a great one for running and wouldn’t run the stadium stairs with anyone looking, but he was one of the first coaches to require stadiums. Our legs would be so sore after the first few days of our week-long spring training (while the other students were on vacation) that we couldn’t walk downstairs in the morning without holding onto the banister.

“Ed Ferry was a champion stair-runner. He had been a fast quarter-mile runner in high school. We were supposed to break ten minutes for ten sets, one seat at a time. (I think there were about eighty-four stadium rows at Stanford back then.)

“Ed ran 7:50.

“Conn and Ed practiced mostly without a coxswain (except for time-trials), using instead a couple of tire tube sections with 110 pounds of sand inside, tied off at the ends and laid down in the coxswain’s seat.” 71

Ferry: “Early on I had made a personal promise to myself to do ANY workout this guy proposed. One of Conn’s goals was to row from Redwood City to the Golden Gate Bridge [nearly 30 miles, 45 kilometers through San Francisco Bay]. Waiting for tides and wind, one day it was right.

“Well, here we go, sand bags and all. (Lucky you missed this one, Kent!)

“There were some swells starting at the San Mateo Bridge, but a not unpleasant three-plus hours later at about 25 strokes a minute we were under the Golden Gate Bridge at full ebb tide in a boat with about three inches of freeboard.

“To ‘way enough’ after all that rowing was a refreshing change, and one gets to look up at the underside of the Bridge in a moment of wonder, and. . . . then we quickly realized that the boat was being pulled out to sea at about the same speed as we had been rowing.

“So we turned the boat back toward San Francisco and rowed harder than we had for a very long time until we reached a dock where Kent was waiting to pick up us, the boat and any pieces.” 72

Mitchell: “Conn and Ed did not row to the Golden Gate Bridge with sandbags! I was in the bow the whole time, all four-plus hours. I slept most of the way, which is probably why Ed recalls that only sandbags were along for the ride. Someone else drove the trailer to the boat club in San Francisco and met us down in the Marina.

“The standing waves we got caught in under the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge were a bit more terrifying for me, lying down in the bow, than for Conn and Ed. When I finally sat up, both the stern and bow decks were completely submerged. Only the gunwales were exposed. Any moment we were going to go under on the out-going tide and swim instead of fly to Tokyo for the 1964 Olympics.

“The guys were rowing like crazy, trying to get the bow to come up onto the surface of one of the waves. Finally, the bow broke through. We glided up the slope of that wave and made like crazy for protected water inside the bay.” 73

Ferry: “Kent is the best coxswain I have ever rowed for. I still don’t remember him in the boat on the Golden Gate Bridge row, but it could indeed be because he was asleep. Conn did not allow coxswains to speak during workouts or races, only give stroke rates and position. In all his coxswaining since then, Kent has more than made up for this imposed silence.” 74


The Dachau Ghost
(photo by Dick Lyon)

Lyon: “About those sandbags, Conn had told Kent that if he weighed one ounce more than the allotted 110 pounds [50 kg], with both watches and all his clothes on, they would find someone lighter. (We called Kent the Dachau Ghost, as he is 5’9” [175 cm].)” 75

Technique

Mitchell Journal: “July 1, 1961. We scheduled a 2,000 meter run. The boat did not have any exceptionally bad moments. Our time, however, was a very disappointing 7:54. Because of the obvious inadequacy of this time, we agreed to go to seven workouts per week and hit the same course on July 8, three days before we were scheduled to leave for Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River course.

“We worked on 500s. To improve the times, we had to diagnose our rowing errors and correct them in the next 6 workouts. By Monday, we had decided that our finish was the cause of the slow times. For the next three days, Conn kept reminding Ed, and therefore himself also, that early hands would solve the problem.

[Times quickly dropped, and Findlay, Ferry and Mitchell went on to beat the Amlong brothers for the 1961 National Championship, rowing 30 to the Amlongs’ 35-6.]

“In conclusion, I want to remark that Conn and Ed have certainly shown that the long, low stroke can move the boat as fast as the Germans and Russians did last year. I recall that we did 500 meters in 1:49.5 at a 29 and a 1:47.5 at a 36-34 during our last morning workout at Redwood before heading for Philadelphia.

“Conn swore last year he would go back to this style of rowing and do better than he and Dick had done at the shorter, higher stroke in Rome. I believe he’s proven his point quite well.” 76

The Findlay-Ferry-Mitchell recovery rhythm was steady, and the recovery sequence was preceded by a bit of body forward at the end of the pullthrough, ferryman-style.

Lyon: “On the recovery, Stan Pocock had been a strong teacher of holding the body until the hands and arms were fully extended, THEN the body, THEN the legs.


Ed Ferry
Force application was Kernschlag
with strong surge to the release.
(photo by author)

“It was fast hands away, like a billiard ball off the cushion, coming off the spring in the oar from the drive, the arms, then the body on what Stan called a ‘dead slide.’ No knee bend until the hands and body had their full reach.” 77

Findlay: “The only way I could get as much compression as Ferry was to lower the footboards, but there was no room to do that in a pair.” 78

Ferry’s posture was flawless. Back rowing starboard, Findlay collapsed his back very slightly at the finish and carried that bend up to the entry. As he had in 1956, he tended to lean to port at the finish.

Leg compression at the entry brought shins to near vertical, and body angle forward was +30°.

Lyon: “The slides in those days were shorter, but the leg motion was not much less than it became later. You simply adjusted your footboards until you hit the bow stops, and then used the full slide length. As I recall, Conn had to move the wheels of his seat closer together to get a long enough length on his slide. He carried his own seat with him when he got in an eight.” 79

Tytus: “Conn asked George to build a longer cockpit in the boat to accommodate his long legs. He just did not fit in the standard 52” station for each oarsman. George refused to make any change in the boat, stating that it would only open a floodgate of other change requests.

“So Conn himself cut his wooden toe bar in half to gain an inch there and also moved the wheels on his seat closer together to allow a little more seat travel. That is how he was finally able to fit in a Pocock coxed-pair.” 80

The Findlay stroke was rowed into the water with a classic Pocock sculler’s catch.

Findlay: “You should feel the oar twist in both hands as the legs start the blade moving. It’s the push of the legs that causes the blade to catch the water and turn into the pulling position – any other way (i.e. twisting with the wrist) is too slow. The water is moving away from the blade, and you must be deliberate with the legs at the catch or you’ll put the brakes on! – Don’t roll forward and then ‘dive’ or take a ‘running start’ at the catch – no dipping of the shoulders to rhythmically ‘time’ the catch.” 81

Lyon: “Conn had a sculling slip catch at low strokes, but a pretty much a square entry at the higher racing cadence . . . by 1964 anyway.” 82

The drive appeared to be initiated by straining straight-arms, but Conn states, “We always thought and taught hanging from a bar, not straining like to do a pull-up.” 83 This was combined with medium legs concurrent with a big, beautiful arcing effort with the backs.


1964 United States Coxed-Pair
Stroke Conn Findlay 6’6” 201 cm 198 lb. 90 kg, bow Ed Ferry 6’4” 196 cm 196 lb. 89 kg, Coxswain Kent Mitchell
Ferry: -10°, +30° to -30°, 0-9, 0-9, 0-10
(photo Tokyo Olympic Committee)

Findlay: “The danger is that you will drive the legs straight down to the flat position and then swing the body back after the legs are down. By eliminating body swing during the [leg] drive, you lose the tremendous power to be gotten from the sweep of the body during the middle of the stroke.

“Body swing at the end of the drive does harm in that it pushes the bow down and at the same time adds little to prying the boat ahead.

“If you are thinking about getting [the] lower part of your back into the work right from the beginning, you’ll come through the middle in good shape. Good shape means the legs coming down and the body sweeping past the perpendicular as you come through the middle. Remember to carry this prying motion right through the drive.

“Naturally, if you are to keep the bend in the oar you must squeeze with the arms, but get this squeeze by pressing against the footboards. Again, don’t just relax and let the oar drift into the belly, then down into your lap. The arm motion is just a smooth, continuous motion from full extension to contraction back to extension.” 84

The body swing to around -30° of layback set the tone for the whole hybrid-concurrent Schubschlag85 stroke.

After good suspension at mid-drive, the legs and backs finished their motions with the stroke around 90% complete.

Lyon: “I rowed a straight pair workout with Conn shortly after returning from Tokyo. I was in the bow and found it very difficult to follow his stroke with its tremendous power through the latter part of the drive.” 86


Findlay, Ferry and Mitchell, Toda Bashi
“I rowed a straight pair workout with Conn shortly after returning from Tokyo.
I was in the bow and found it very difficult to follow his stroke with its
tremendous power through the later part of the drive.” – Dick Lyon
(photo by Kent Mitchell

The last 10% of the drive was left to the arms, prompting a ferryman’s finish, just as the Pococks recommended. In the last few inches of the pullthrough the heads would inevitably move a bit forward to meet the handle.

Findlay: “What you call ferryman’s finish we called ‘body first.’ We attempted to stick out the chin as we were about to push away, which turned into reversing the direction of the shoulders pulled by the arms, and this was still part of the drive. Then the hands went away first, then the back and then the legs unlocked, which started you down toward the stern.” 87


Dick Lyon
Force application was strongly Kernschlag
But still had strong surge to the release.
(photo by author)

“The handle must be heading away from the belly as the blade leaves the water. This is the only way you can make proper use of the spring in the oar.88 This also makes for a clean release and a steady boat.

“Early hands away. Shove away with the outside hand a little before you think you should, and you’ll probably end up about right. If you press hard with the legs before and during the release and get generous layback through the middle, then there is no danger of cutting it off too early.” 89

Building Toward Tokyo

Mitchell: “July 4, 1962. Ed, Conn and I had the first 2,000 meter time trial this morning. Total time was 7:47, compared with last year’s best of 7:48 in a heavier boat.

July 7, 1962. Our major emphasis is in the same area as last year at this time – the finish and release.” 90

Mitchell: “Here’s an interesting story. In July of 1962, we were training in the Bay Area for the Nationals/Pan Am Trials to be held in Buffalo. Conn called and said Lake Merritt Rowing Club was holding a Sunday regatta and that a former Stanford rower (Bruce Halvorsen, I think) and a former Lake Washington rower (Chuck Alm, coxed-four, Rome) wanted to enter a four-with. Neither of these guys was in shape or had been rowing, so Conn told me that once we got a comfortable lead, do the minimum needed to keep the lead so these guys wouldn’t be wiped out.

“Shortly into the race, I told everyone we had a three-quarter length lead and to back it down. I kept looking over at the second place crew, reporting that we had a three-quarter length lead all the way down the course. As we approached the finish, I said, ‘We still have a three-quarter length lead. No sprint.’

“As we crossed the line, I looked at the finish flag way across the course come down and then suddenly up for the first and second place crews. Conn was livid that it was so close and that I had miscalled the margin. When we got to shore, the other crew was declared the winner by a whisker, and Conn started in on me.

“‘What if you do that in a race that counts?’

“For the next two weeks of training (two-a-days), Conn would say to me, ‘Kent, pick a mark fifty strokes away and count the strokes to that mark!’ This happened every morning and every afternoon until we left for Buffalo. I got really good at my estimates, but if I missed it by even one stroke, Conn would say, ‘There you go again. Just like Lake Merritt!’

“This really hurt, even though most of my fifty-stroke estimates were right on.

[On July 22, 1962 in Buffalo, New York, Findlay, Ferry and Mitchell easily won their second consecutive U.S. Championship and qualified both for the first-ever World Rowing Championships in Lucerne on September 7-9, 1962 and for the 1963 Pan American Games the following spring.]

“After we won in Buffalo, we were standing behind the Amlongs’ Studebaker where they were cooking rancid beef they’d carried in their trunk since leaving Arizona where they had trained. Suddenly Conn turned to me and said, ‘Mitch, do you remember the call you made at Lake Merritt?’

“I shot back, ‘How could I forget with what you’ve been laying on me ever since?’

“Conn replied, ‘Well... I guess... Ed and I... maybe we forgot to tell you that the day after that race the president of the Lake Merritt Rowing Club called and apologized. He said the finish line judge was looking at the wrong finish line marker in our race, and that we had actually won the race by three-quarters of a length.’” 91

1962 World Championships

Mitchell: “We qualified for the six-boat final by winning a preliminary race hands down92 in a blustery headwind, but in the final with 500 meters to go, we were back in third place and eating Romania’s and Germany’s wakes. In desperation, we kicked into our finishing sprint early, caught Romania with ten strokes to go and then collapsed, all the way back to fifth place by the finish line.”93

1GER7:19.10
2ROM7:22.60
3URS7:24.17
4DEN7:26.35
5USA7:26.73
6POL7:36.49

It should be noted that the conditions on the Rotsee were extremely fast for their final. The first five crews broke the previous course record.94 Whereas they had beaten Denmark “hands down” in slow conditions two days before, the Danes had returned the favor in fast conditions.

Mitchell: “It was Ed’s and Conn’s first international regatta together and the poorest that Conn had ever done. This wore on Ed for the next two years; he figured he’d let Conn down. In fact, he and Conn moved that pair faster in ’62 than any other pair that Conn had been in. Still, the dismal fifth was proof they weren’t world beaters, and it stuck with them all the way to Tokyo, 1964. Even their Pan Am Games victory eight months later in Brazil didn’t heal the wound.” 95

Findlay: “In 1963, Kent was in law school so we used another coxswain from Stanford, Charles Blitzer96. He went with us down to the Pan Ams in Sao Paulo, Brazil. [Findlay, Ferry and Blitzer won.]

“Because the Games were in the Southern Hemisphere, they were during the school year [rowing finals on April 28, 1963], so when we came back, we flew straight to Southern California because Stanford had a race that weekend, and Ferry and Blitzer went straight into their eight.”97

Findlay and Ferry took the summer of 1963 off from rowing as Mitchell continued law school, Ferry graduated from Stanford, went to Officer Candidate School and was commissioned in the U.S. Navy, and Conn raced sailboats in England.

Ed and Conn resumed rowing in mid-October, 1963, twelve months before the Tokyo Games.

Mitchell: “[During February, 1964] Ed’s back went lame, and they couldn’t row for six weeks. Conn sculled and Ed ran, but when they resumed rowing Ed had to wrap a six-foot elastic bandage around his torso. Conn always grumbled that he knew how Ed had hurt his back. The cause was strictly ‘extracurricular’ and had nothing to do with rowing. Ed denied this vigorously, but never convincingly

“You’d expect Conn to tread lightly on the personal aspects of Ed’s life, and vice versa, to avoid bitterness, you know, build up the team spirit! Quite the contrary! In early 1962, Ed served notice that inasmuch as nothing in his personal life was sacred to Conn, there was open warfare between them.

‘From then on, Ed bantered Conn about his teeth, his age, his living at home; he called him The Old Man in front of everyone and ridiculed Conn’s nomadic college life: terms at every J.C. in the San Francisco area, at Santa Clara, Berlitz language school and even refused admission at Stanford – Ed loved that one! – then about Conn’s last-ditch effort that got him a degree at USC [in mechanical engineering].

“Conn replied in subdued, fatherly tones and simply recounted a long list of Ed’s indiscretions, mostly true.” 98

Ferry: ‘Conn gets a hard rap for his crustiness, but here are a couple of anecdotes showing a softer side.


1962 Lake Washington Coxed-Pair
Winners, U.S. Nationals – Pan Am Trials, Niagara River
(photo by Kent Mitchell)

“As our pair would coast to a stop after a long training piece, occasionally Conn would tilt the leading edge of his blade to catch a thin film of water cascading over the top of his blade and say, ‘Water flowers.’

“When I was stroking our college eight at the 1962 Western Sprints, Coach Conn, known at the time as the Jolly Green Giant, had been giving us last minute instructions. As we left to go on the water, another crewman said to me, ‘Did you see what I did?’ and I said, ‘Yes’. Conn had been tearing up.

“It took me two years of rowing with Conn after that to get the courage to ask him about the incident. He said, ‘I just looked at all of your hopeful, solemn faces and...’ That was as far as he got.” 99

During the winter and spring, Conn and Ed continued to train at Stanford. Then they reunited with the Lake Washington group in Seattle during the last week of May. Mitchell finished his law school exams on June 8 and immediately joined them.

During June, all three participated in Stan Pocock’s effort to put together a fast LWRC eight. Frustratingly, at no time did any combination get below 6:10.

Mitchell: “June 25, 1964. LIBERATION DAY! Conn/Ed backed out of 8 to get pair moving. Wise!

July 9, 1964. Took timer last Tues. Some help. 4 w/o = 6:36.5, p/w = 7:29.

July 17, 1964. In A.M. workout, air was calm, water smooth for 1st 1,000. In last 1,000, slight headwind came up. 7:30.” 100

Mitchell: “We’d applied to the NAAO for permission to represent the U.S. in that year’s European Championships [on the Bosbaan in Amsterdam, August 6-9, 1964, a week after the U.S. Nationals and two months before the Tokyo Olympics], and its Foreign Regatta Committee had given us an ‘unconditional’ go-ahead, at our own expense, of course.

‘Then, on the eve of the Nationals, the NAAO Executive Committee met and let the Vesper Boat Club talk them into revoking their unconditional approval of our entry in Amsterdam. Vesper had two boys who also wanted the European experience in the pair, and we were told, ‘Beat them, or they go.’”101

Yale grads Emory Clark and Boyce Budd (coxed by John Quinn) were part of the Vesper Boat Club eight which had already won the Olympic Trials on July 11. Since the Games were not until October, their coach wanted to break up the eight into a coxed-four and two pairs and race in Amsterdam the week after the Nationals. 102

United Press: “The Vesper pair-with-coxswain withstood a fierce challenge from the defending national champion Stanford Crew Association to win by half a boat length in 7:19.8 seconds. This was better than the winning time in the 1960 Olympics.

“Stanford took the Pan American Championship as well as the national crown last year.” 103

August 1, 1964. Lost race vs. Budd/Clark – Vesper – in Nationals, so didn’t go to Europe.

“Our splits: 1:46, 1:50, 1:54, 1:50. Vesper’s about the same. We stroked 40/36, 32 1/2, 32 1/2, 33/37, Vesper about same. Boats always overlapped, tied 3 times. We never got lead from them.

“Difference was 1.8 sec: Vesper 7:19.8, Stanford 7:21.6. Next nearest competitor was 19 secs back. Vesper ineligible for Olympics in pair races since already in eight.

“Good race & good trip, except for b.s. that Jack Kelly generated re. who would go to Europe.” 104

All this resulted in additional stress for the Lake Washington pair. During the entire trip back East, Conn and Ed were barely speaking to one another. Blows had even been exchanged in the car . . . while driving!

Ferry: “Conn Findlay is the most remarkable man I have ever known. Inner-directed and ornery.

Don’t forget ornery!!!

“A pair is a team sport like all crews, but it is also a daily competition to pull as hard as or harder than your partner. This engenders antagonism and stubbornness... and Conn rowed a pair for nine years!” 105

The following week, fresh off the plane from the U.S., Budd, Clark and Quinn placed only fourth in their heat on the Bosbaan and then failed in the reps to advance to the final.

1964 Olympic Trials

August 27, 1964. We won final w/o being pushed. Got 6 secs by 1,000m & sat on it. Times: 1:45 (40/35), 1:50 (32), 1:55 (31), 1:55 (31).” 106

At the end of the Trials, The Seattle Times was playing down the chances of any Lake Washington boat medaling.

Georg Meyers: “Findlay’s boat won in New York in 7:24.6. The German pair’s winning time in the European Championships was 7:12.6.” 107


1964 Coxed-Pair Olympic Trials, Orchard Beach
1 Lake Washington 7:24.6, 2 Detroit B.C. 7:30.7, 3 NYAC-New Rochelle 7:32.8,
4 Laconia B 7:33.9, 5 Laconia A 7:40.8, 6 College B.C. 7: 46.0
(photo by Kent Mitchell)

Tokyo

On the Toda Bashi Olympic course, the U.S. pair won Heat 1 by open water over the Netherlands, with Czechoslovakia another three seconds back. France won Heat 2 by .01 seconds over the Soviet Union in basically the same time as the Americans. Poland won Heat 3 in a time two and one-half seconds slower. All three qualified directly into the final.

In the reps, the remaining three lanes in the final were filled with the Czechs, Dutch and Soviets, who eliminated the European Champions from the German Democratic Republic, who would eventually win the petit final.

During the warm-up before the Olympic final, the American coxed-pair rowed the entire length of the course from start to finish and back.

Findlay: “All the boats at the start had a lot of water in them and were getting it out on the starting platform. Our race was postponed, and I asked the starter if he would still be our starter when the races resumed. Mr. Eto, whom I knew from a visit to Japan in 1962, said, ‘Yes.’

“We followed Mr. Eto to the finish line and found a dock to get the water out of our boat. When Mr. Eto went back up the course, we followed him to the start, knowing that the water was very good for the second 1,000.” 108

Stan Pocock: “Because the wind was blowing hard that day, Conn wanted to see what conditions were like down toward the finish line. Finding they were much better than at the start, he was content to let the other crews beat themselves up at the beginning, knowing he could step on the gas in the calmer water to come.” 109


1964 USA Coxed-Pair
Stroke Conn Findlay, Bow Ed Ferry, Coxswain Kent Mitchell
“Notice that the outriggers had back-braces, put there by Stan Pocock to keep the riggers
from bending and changing the pitch during the drive.” – Dick Lyon
(photo by Dick Krahenbuhl)

Duvall Hecht described the typical race strategy for the Findlay coxed-pair back in 1956: “Their start is about 36 for 90 seconds, settling gradually to a 29 or 30 and hold their beat constant until they begin their sprint.”

Lyon: “By 1964, they were rowing over 32 into a headwind, so it wasn’t like the 29-30 they may have rowed in 1956 through the body.” 111

Hecht: “After the first two minutes of a race, having rowed high and hard, they feel a second wind coming on and take ten strokes at their racing beat thinking only about breathing deeply and form. This is what they call their ‘powerless-10.’ They say rival boats move on them perhaps five feet in these ten strokes, but they feel so rested after relaxing that they are much more effective for the remainder of the race.” 112

Nash: “Just like Joe Burk, Conn figured if he rowed even-splits as fast as he could go every 500, he’d probably win, and he was one of the very few then who could do it.” 113

The Final

Ferry: “Before coming to Tokyo, I thought we would do well to make the final. All I was determined to do was row the best race I could.

“After a crab by Conn (the one and only one I ever experienced from him) and a false start by another boat, we took the second start, which was good.” 114


Findlay, Ferry and Mitchell
Nearing the finish line in Tokyo,
Safronov, Rakovtzhik and Rudakov in foreground.
(photo by Sports Illustrated)

As the boats left the starting floats, the Soviet and U.S. pairs were in the least favored Lanes 1 and 2, rowing into a strong, choppy crosswind. Despite the unequal conditions across the course, the Soviets went for it in typical fashion, and they led the field convincingly by more than half a length at 32 after the first 500 meters, with the U.S. also at 32 and staying basically even with the French and Dutch crews over in Lanes 5 and 6 on the more sheltered side of the course.

The technique of this particular Soviet coxed-pair, the 1964 European Championship Silver Medalists behind GDR, owed less to the Moscow Style and more to the new West German adaptation of the Soviet approach. Stroke-man Leonid Rakovtzhik, 6’5” 195 cm 201 lb 91 kg, bow Nikolay Safronov, 6’2” 188 cm 183 lb. 83 kg, and coxswain/coach Igor Rudakov115 rowed a smooth, even, concurrent pullthrough with good, erect posture, only +20° body angle forward and -20° layback, similar, as we shall soon see, to the new Ratzeburg Technique, to be discussed in a later chapter.

Rowing News: “The final in Tokyo was a long slog into a ferocious 18-mile-per-hour cross-headwind. By the 500-meter mark, the Soviet team had built a lead of about two-thirds of a length over the Americans, with the rest of the field hard on their heels.” 116

Ferry: “After 500 meters, I looked up and saw three boats behind us and thought, ‘Hey, if that holds, that means a medal for us!’” 117

Mitchell: “And we just sat there. Neither crew [the Soviets and Americans] moved a foot for 1,100 meters.” 118

Ferry: “We rowed 33 strokes a minute into a substantial headwind, and at the 1,000 meter mark where it was a bit calmer, we took it up to 34.

“I thought, ‘The Old Man still wants to win.’” 119

Mitchell: “Then with 400 meters to go, Conn said, in the same voice I’m using now, ‘Well Ed, you wanna do it now?’

“Ed said, ‘Okay,’ and we brought it up to a 36 and went right through the Soviets.” 120

Joe Amlong: “It is my opinion that the Russians were much slowed down by the extremely wide shovel blades (10 1/4” across) which they used into the headwind. Conn used regular Pocock oars and boat.” 121

Ferry: “At about 1,700 meters, Mitch said, ‘You are ahead.’

“I thought, ‘Unbelievable! Maybe we don’t have to sprint!’

“From then on, I was watching the Dutch and French in the wind-protected lanes to be sure to stay ahead of them.” 122

Findlay: “My guess is we were rowing at 34, and from all our practice in the last 500, we decided not to speed up for the last twenty or thirty strokes. To avoid a mistake, no sprint. Kent could call strokes to go within half a stroke. He was and still is that good.123124

The late U.S. surge seemed to demoralize the Soviet crew. Safronov in particular lost all his posture and swing as he kept looking over at the Americans going by, and toward the end of the course, the Soviets faded from medal contention.

The headwind was also taking their toll on Findlay and Ferry.

Ferry: “The physical conditioning for this exhausting sport proves that the human body can do much more than one realizes it can, but several times during every 2,000 meters, one does not quite believe that he can finish the course.

“In my experience, it is such a delicate subject amongst oarsman that it was NEVER mentioned. Only after retirement have I discussed it with another rower. We spoke of the terror and fear of hurting that badly.”125

The finish line came too soon for the French and Dutch in the sheltered lanes, who had to settle for Silver and Bronze respectively.

Mitchell: “As many times as I have seen pictures of the 1964 medal ceremony when Conn, Ed and I were standing on the platform in Tokyo, I have absolutely no recollection of any part of that ceremony, and I didn’t do one lick of physical work at all to get there!

“All I recall as we crossed the finish line was thinking to myself, ‘Thank God this whole thing is over!’


1964 Olympic Medal Ceremony – Coxed-Pair
1 USA 8:21.23, 2 FRA 8:23.15, 3 NED 8:23.42, 4 URS 8:24.85, 5 TCH 8:36.21, 6 POL 8:40.00
Olympic Champions – Bow Ed Ferry, Coxswain Kent Mitchell, Stroke Conn Findlay
(photo by Kent Mitchell)

“The whole four years, not just the race. I was overcome with relief, not pumped with the ecstasy of victory.

“With the wind howling outside just before we launched for the Tokyo final, one of my last thoughts as Dick Lyon was taking my picture (‘the Dachau Ghost’) was asking myself, ‘Why are we putting ourselves through this?’

“Once the race started, it was all mechanical for me, and none of those doubts or anxieties were ever in my mind. It seems like it is always the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ that are hard to deal with.”126

After Tokyo

In Montreal 1976, Conn Findlay returned to Olympic competition, but this time on the sailing course in Kingston, Ontario, crewing for San Diego Yacht Club’s Dennis Conner in Tempest class sailboats. Conn had got to know Dennis while sailing for him in preparation for America’s Cup competition.

Findlay was the ideal crewman to climb into the boat’s trapeze, essentially a small seat at the end of a long wire strung from the top of the mast, and “hike out,” placing his substantial body weight far out beyond the gunwale to counterbalance the push of the wind as the boat raced along.

Stan Pocock: “Having done extremely well in the early races, they were almost certain to take the Gold. In the final race of the series, they were in good shape when the trapeze broke.

“Conn went in the drink, and by the rules, Conner had to turn back to pick him up and, of course, lost too much ground to finish in the money.” 127

Findlay: “My swim actually came in the third or fourth race.” 128

The competition in 1976 for the sixteen countries entered in the Tempest class consisted of seven fleet races with points awarded for the placement in each race, 0 for first, 3 for second, 5.7 for third, 8 for fourth and on down the line. At the end, the lowest point total won the Gold Medal.

After two races the Americans were leading, and after three races, the top two teams were in a virtual tie, the Swedish crew of John Albrechtson and Ingvar Hansson with 11 points and the Americans right behind with 11.7. The Soviet crew of Valentin Mankin and Vladislav Akimenko were third with 16 points. The racing had been remarkably close, often with several boats overlapping as they crossed the finish line.

The Swedes took a commanding overall lead by winning the fourth race with the Soviets third and the Americans fifth. This left Conn and Dennis tied for second with the Soviets.

The fifth of seven races was when Conn’s trapeze broke. As a result, they placed ninth, but still crossed the line only 2.75 seconds after the winners. That put them 12 points behind second place with two races to go, and only major mistakes by the two frontrunners would allow them to move back up.

It didn’t happen. The Swedes finished out with a second and a first to win the Gold Medal convincingly. The Soviets took Silver with a third and a fifth in the last two races. Conn and Dennis took the Bronze with a fourth and then a second, .81 seconds behind the Swedes in the final race.

Seiffert: “Conn has told me that in the final race, they were in a position to protect their overall third place or take a flyer away from the rest of the fleet in hopes of improving their final position. When Dennis asked Conn’s advice, his answer was ‘Dennis, you decide, I’ve already got my medals.’” 129

Findlay: “We still had a chance at Silver in the last race, but if the gamble didn’t work, we would have Bronze, and that’s how it turned out.” 130

It was Conn’s fourth medal in a unique Olympic career!

He is also one of only eleven sailors in history to medal in the Olympics and also win the America’s Cup.131 In 1977, Findlay was a member of the crew of Courageous as they successfully defended the America’s Cup against the yacht Australia.

Seiffert: “Conn’s sailing career also included being with Ted Turner on perhaps the most famous ocean race ever, the 1979 Fastnet, during which a severe storm sank many yachts with much loss of life.

“They won the race.” 132

Postscript

In the years after Montreal, Conn Findlay leased Pocock shells to beginning rowing programs around the country, and when those boats could no longer serve their crews, Conn gave them new lives hanging as decoration from restaurant ceilings.

Conn has served as boatman or manager for several U.S. National Teams and remains actively involved with U.S. Rowing. I look forward to chatting with him every spring at the San Diego Crew Classic.

Lake Washington Rowing Club teammate Ted Nash: “My 1960 boat trained with Conn and Dick. I always felt Conn was another coach to us. He knew winds and water far better than we did. He could repair anything – and he always had another gear.

“And he always had a smile and a joke for everyone.

“Conn has given a lifetime of engineering, racing, coaching and service to others needing help, encouraging everyone and leading by solid example and warm support. Many organizations would not have survived absent the ‘Findlay Factor.’

“Conn is a giant in our sport. He is unique, and after all, Conn is Conn.”133

Seiffert: “At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Conn was honored as one of the 100 greatest American Olympians ever.” 134

Ferry: “Conn didn’t court publicity. He shunned it. Once in the ‘80s when a San Francisco Chronicle article came out calling him the ‘renowned Conn Findlay,’ I teased him (Teasing was a huge part of our relationship.) and called him ‘Reno.’ He accepted the name. It was the only time I have ever seen him acknowledge some form of notoriety.”135

Conn is still seen spectating at regattas on the U.S. West Coast.


Ed Ferry and Conn Findlay at the 2009 IRA.
(photo by author)

Dan Ayrault won a second Olympic Gold Medal in 1960, this time in the coxless-four for Lake Washington Rowing Club, as will be discussed in the next chapter.

After the 1960 Olympics, in which he competed in the coxed-four, Kurt Seiffert entered medical school and has had a fulfilling career as a neurologist in Seattle. A few years ago, he returned to masters’ rowing, coxing some of his old Lake Washington teammates.

Dick Draeger: “After two years in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I worked for Pacific Gas and Electric Company for thirty-five years, retiring in 1998 as Vice President of Customer Service.

“Loree and I raised four boys, all now married and successful. None rowed.

“I served as Treasurer and President of the Marin Rowing Association from 1982 to 1995, and I continue to be an active member. Loree continues to be as patient as ever with my rowing affliction.136

Ed Ferry: “I got an MBA from Wharton in 1967. I have been self-employed all my life, first as a European camping tour operator for American high school students and then as a high-end spec home builder in Marin County, California.

“I have traveled extensively, often overland, to about sixty countries, including VW camper trips from Europe to India and from Nairobi to Cape Town, also Southeast Asia and South America. Married, no children.

“In 2005 while hiking alone in Mexico, I fell into a vertical mine shaft, severely injuring my face, nose and jaw. I managed to climb out on my own and fully recover. My wife, Brenda, tended to my three-day recovery in a Mexican hospital.”137

Kent Mitchell has found time during his successful career as an attorney in the Bay Area to become founder and president of JAMCO, pioneer in on-line computer tracking of rowing competitions. He and Dick Draeger, Ed Ferry and Dick Lyon still compete in master’s events world-wide.


1pronounced “A-row.”
2pronounced “Sigh-fert.”

69Kent Mitchell, A Blueprint for Gold, unpublished manuscript, 1965
70Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
71Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
72Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
73Mitchell, personal correspondence, 2009
74Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
75Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
76Mitchell journal
77Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
78Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
79Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
80Tytus, personal conversation, 2009
81Stanford Crew handout, 1959
82Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
83Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
84Stanford Crew handout, 1959
85surging pullthrough, a term coined by scientists of the German Democratic Republic.
86Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
87Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
88This technique is less practical with modern carbon-fiber shafts which do not bend and whip to the extent of pre-1980s wooden shafts.
89Stanford Crew handout, 1959
90Mitchell journal
91Mitchell, personal correspondence, 2009
921 USA 8:21.48, 2 DEN 8:27.60
93Kent Mitchell, A Blueprint for Gold, unpublished manuscript, 1965
94The Times of London, September 10, 1962
95Kent Mitchell, A Blueprint for Gold, unpublished manuscript, 1965
96Mitchell was in law school.
97Findlay, personal conversation, 2005
98Kent Mitchell, A Blueprint for Gold, unpublished manuscript, 1965
99Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
100Mitchell journal
101Kent Mitchell, A Blueprint for Gold, unpublished manuscript, 1965
102See Chapter xxx.
103United Press, August 1, 1964
104Mitchell journal
105Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
106Mitchell journal
107Georg N. Meyers, September Morn, Delights Await, The Seattle Times, September 1, 1964 (estimate)
108Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
109S. Pocock, p. 203
110Duvall Hecht, The Saga of the Pairs-With and -Without Coxswain, Rowing News, December 1956, p. 18
111Lyon, personal correspondence, 2009
112Duvall Hecht, The Saga of the Pairs-With and -Without Coxswain, Rowing News, December 1956, p. 15
113Nash, personal conversation, 2004
114Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
115the same man who coached and coxed the Lithuanian pair and the Soviet four in 1960.
116Jeff Moag, Rowers Cross Over, Rowing News, September, 2005, p. 52
117Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
118Qtd by Jeff Moag, Rowers Cross Over, Rowing News, September, 2005, p. 52
119Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
120Jeff Moag, Rowers Cross Over, Rowing News, September, 2005, p. 52
121Joseph Amlong, Olympic Report, Rowing News December 1964, p. 2, 10
122Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
123Mitchell: “After that story of the weeks after the Lake Merritt race in 1962, you know why Conn thinks I’m pretty good at estimating strokes to go!” – personal correspondence, 2009
124Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
125Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
126Mitchell, correspondence to Dick Draeger, 2009
127S. Pocock, personal correspondence, 2005
128Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
129Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
130Findlay, personal correspondence, 2007
131Jeff Moag, Rowers Cross Over, Rowing News, September, 2005, p. 52
132Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
133Nash, personal correspondence, 2009
134Seiffert, personal correspondence, 2009
135Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009
136Draeger, personal correspondence, 2009
137Ferry, personal correspondence, 2009


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