Time of Glory

On May the 14th 1911, James Farrell of the London Rowing Club arrived in Malmö, Sweden. He was invited by the Swedish Olympic Rowing Committee, which had been formed for the forthcoming 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. In the previous Games, Sweden had not taken part in the rowing events, but it would look bad if the host nation did not have any oarsmen competing at their own Games. Farrell’s task was to visit some of the Swedish rowing clubs to select rowers and train them for the Olympic regatta on the waters of Djurgårdsbrunnsviken.

At an Olympic conference in Budapest earlier that year, Sweden’s suggestions of boat types at the regatta had been approved: single scull, coxed outrigger four, eight, and, for the Olympics, the very odd coxed inrigger, a boat type that was used in the Nordic countries on the sometimes rough waters along their coastlines. The inrigger, the origin of which was a gig, was a wide boat with the oarlocks attached directly on the gunwale, and the four rowers sitting in a zigzag way. Germany and Great Britain had protested as they also wanted double sculls, coxless pair, and coxless four to be represented at the Games. The congress said no. The British sport magazine The Field wrote sourly that an inrigger had no business in an Olympic regatta. This boat type would never again appear at an Olympic rowing event, and has to be regarded as an Olympic curiosity.

It was not a coincidence that Farrell’s first stop was Malmö in the south of Sweden. It was some distinguished members of the local rowing club in town, Malmö Roddklubb, that had suggested to the Swedish Rowing Committee to contact Farrell. The club had asked Farrell to stay for three weeks in Malmö, to train some of their oarsmen, before he was to travel to other rowing clubs in the country. The club paid him three pounds a week and gave him free board and lodging, probably something that violated ARA’s amateur rules back home in England.


When James Farrell – Jack to his friends – came to Sweden that spring, he was 54 years old. He had joined the London RC in 1873 and had rowed in the bow seat in fours and eights at the Henley Royal Regatta on six occasions. In 1880, he was in the eight that won Thames Challenge Cup. He had also raced three times in the Diamond Challenge Sculls, and made it to the final in 1884. In 1892, at the age of 35, he rowed his last single race at Henley. On August the 5th, Farrell started his first rowing camp in Malmö. The Rowing Committee had decided that Farrell and his oarsmen were to concentrate on the eight and the inrigger, the latter being crewed with the four best rowers, C. Brunkman, W. Bruhn-Möller, T. Rosvall, stroke H. Dahlbäck, and coxswain W. Wilkens. Lack of funding, forced them also to row in the eight.

James Farrell went back to England later that autumn, only to return to Malmö in April the next year for a pre-Olympic training camp. On the first day, Farrell gathered the rowers around him, and said: ”Well, gentlemen, from now on, no boozing, smoking or dancing!” It did not come as a surprise to the rowers that their coach put a ban on liquor and cigarettes, but dancing? Farrell explained: when you dance you are using muscles that you do not use in rowing, and this will disturb your rowing muscles – so no dancing!

The Olympic rowing event of 1912 was to that point the world’s largest regatta, 45 boats from 14 countries. All the major rowing nations, except USA, had come to Stockholm. The first Olympic race on July the 17th was the inrigger four. As the 2,000-metre course only had room for two boats, several heats were needed. Farrell’s crew easily defeated a crew from Norway. In the semifinal they had to work harder for the victory beating a second team from Norway. In the final the next day, they were to meet last year’s Nordic champions from Denmark. But a couple of hours before this race, the Swedes had to row in the eight. Their opponents were New College. The Oxford boat had the lead from start to finish, not allowing the Swedish eight to come closer then half a boat length. Slightly more than three hours after the Swedes were beaten by New College, the Swedish inrigger four sat at the start again. The Danish boat got a brilliant start leaving the young Swedes behind. The Swedish crew fought bravely but it was extra hard with the eight race still in their bodies. At the end of the race, the Swedes put on a spurt, but the masterful Danes held the lead and took the first Danish Olympic rowing gold, leaving Sweden with a silver.

The day after the Olympic Rowing, the Swedes got their revenge. At the Nordic Championships, which were held on the Olympic course, the Swedish eight won without trouble. During 1914, 1915, and 1916, Jack Farrell was coaching Sweden’s eight (a club crew from Malmö RK), helping them becoming Nordic champions all three years. This was the time of glory for Swedish rowing.

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