At the 2022 Worlds, Tiff Wood and Uwe Mund could sit high in the grandstands, enjoying the racing as spectators. Thirty-nine years earlier, they were the ones vying for medals out on the course, competitors from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain, racing in sliding rigger boats no less.
In that race, which lives on thanks to Youtube, Mund--representing East Germany--rowed through Soviet sculler Vassily Yakusha to take silver behind West Germany's Peter-Michael Kolbe. Wood, who had run in fourth much of the way, was also able to overtake Yakusha to win the bronze. It was the last race at a World Championships in which the sliding rigger design--provisional at the time--was permitted.
Now friends joined by the moments they shared on the race course, Wood and Mund re-connected about 5 years ago, through Hans Svensson, another sculler from their era, who had raced the single for Sweden before racing in the Swedish straight four at the 1984 Games. In Racice this year, Wood's wife Susan was coaching the USA's Para Mixed Double, providing the perfect opportunity for another in-person reunion--and a chance to reminisce about that race in 1983.
When asked how they remember the race now, Wood noted that the two probably think about their outcomes differently: while he was excited to come back and win a bronze, he asked if Uwe had seen his own silver medal differently.
Uwe, were you disappointed?
A bit, yes: I was running for gold normally, competing with Kolbe, from Western Germany. I was a bit disappointed after the race because, after the semi final, it looked very good for me. But [in the final], Kolbe was a better man. I think it was three-quarters of a length, nothing more.
It was a hard race, but he was the better man that day. For me, it was a bit disappointing, to get only silver. Everybody's happy to win silver but for me, on that day, it was a small disappointment. Later on, it was a success for me.
It seems like, from watching films of the race, that you made a bit of a run at him in the last 500, which he was able to respond to.
I was a bit surprised, five years ago when we met for the first time after a long time, that the videos from '82 and '83 were available on YouTube. We watched them together in the living room and what a nice feeling that was.
For me in that race, I had no expectations: it was almost the first time I'd raced internationally in the single. I had raced at Lucerne earlier that year but that was the year of the sliding rigger boat, and the first time I'd raced the sliding rigger boat was at Lucerne--and it was a disappointing outcome. I felt like I could do better, but I had no idea. It was really hard to tell.
At Worlds, I had a pretty strong heat: Kolbe was in my heat, and he won, but I pushed him. After the race, he was quoted in the newspapers calling me a crazy American for rowing so hard when obviously he was going to win.
Then I had a decent semi, finished second, so I knew I'd be in contention, but I had a horrible start in the final. I was fourth off the line, and I was fourth all the way. It was almost two races for a while.
The Russian took off--remember Yakusha led for a while--and it was the three of them, Uwe, Kolbe and Yakusha, up front and then there was a divide and I was in fourth all the way.
I thought, I have to row my best race and see what happens. So, I'm rowing along and rowing along and, at some point, about 600 meters to go, I look over my left shoulder and Yakusha is within sight and I go, "This guy is dying."
He was in Lane six. I had lane five, and he was in six.
Right, and I was in lane 2. So, I look over, and thought, "Holy shit. I might catch this guy."
I passed him with maybe 300 meters to go, and I spent the last part of the race counting how many boats were behind me, trying to do the math to see if I was really going to come in third. [laughs]
I had a good last 500, but wasn't gaining particularly on these two guys, Uwe and Kolbe, but it was solid and I was ecstatic to get third.
And that was the last race for the sliding rigger.
I really wished I'd had more time in the sliding rigger boat, because as I started rowing it more and more, I began to think that there really was an opportunity to change the way you rowed that would work better. If I'd rowed a 40 all the way down the course, I could've gone faster, because you didn't pay as much of a price for rowing high [with the sliding rigger].
Rowing high was not a thing back then. I tried it a couple of times in practice, and thought, "Gee, this is working." But I didn't have enough confidence in it to feel like racing it that way.
I did well in the [sliding rigger] boat, so I liked it. Since then, some articles have been written, one by Volker Nolte, about how the sliding rigger was made for Kolbe, because he had really long legs. But I have short legs and a long torso, so how did I do well with the sliding rigger, too? I don't know.
row2k: Now that you are in contact again, have you gotten the chance to row together, or do you maybe still prefer to race against each other?
[laughing] Susan is agitating for us to try and row together.
When we met in Bled, for the Masters, I had some clothes with me and Tiff said to me, one four is not complete. Could you could you jump in? I said okay, but there was a problem with the age average: it was too low with me [laughs], so that's why it did not happen.