The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Daniel James Brown

I grew up hearing about rowing.  My dad rowed in high school and college.  One of his high school rowing teammates won a gold medal at the 1952 Olympics rowing for the USA (Naval Academy Team).   Among other things I can tell you about rowing is that a practice that doesn't end with throwing up means you weren't working hard enough.

If Jesse Owens is rightfully the most famous American athlete of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, refuting Hitler’s notion of white supremacy by winning gold in 4 events, the gold-medal-winning effort by the 8-man rowing team from the University of Washington is still a remarkable story. It includes rowing guru British boatmaker George Pocock and an unlikely bunch of rough & tumble young rowers - not the elite young men who usually rowed for eastern schools. 

Brown paints a vivid picture of the socioeconomic landscape of 1930s America (brutal), the relentlessly demanding effort required of an Olympic-level rower, the exquisite brainpower and materials that go into making a first-rate boat, and the wiles of a coach who somehow found a way to, first, beat archrival University of California, then conquer a national field of qualifiers, and finally, defeat the best rowing teams in the world.

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