The Philadelphia Challenge Cup

At the 1920 Olympic rowing event, John “Jack” B. Kelly of Vesper Boat Club, Philadelphia, won the single scull race defeating Jack Beresford Jr., of Thames Rowing Club, London with one second. To celebrate the first American to take an Olympic gold medal in the single sculls, a group lead by J. Elliot Newlin, the Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, raised $2,500 among the rowing community of Philadelphia to establish a prize, the Philadelphia Challenge Cup. The Schuylkill Navy wanted the Cup, which sometimes has also been referred to as the Philadelphia Gold Cup, to be regarded as the Amateur Single Sculling Championship of the World, and the first sculler being awarded the title was Jack Kelly.

For the years in between the Olympic single sculling races, the Schuylkill Navy would authorize a challenger to race the champion for the title. This happened in 1922, when Walter M. Hoover, of the Undine Barge Club, won a match race for the Cup in Philadelphia, overpowering Paul V. Costello of Vesper BC. Costello was Kelly’s cousin and they had won the gold in the double sculls in the 1920 Olympics (and they would do so again in 1924).

The year after, in 1923, W.E. Garrett Gilmore of the Bachelors Barge Club, beat Hoover, now of Duluth Boat Club, at Duluth, Michigan. Back on the Schuylkill River, on 26 May 1924, Costello defeated Gilmore in a race for the Cup. Later that year, at the Olympic rowing races at the Argenteuil, Paris on 17 July, Jack Beresford became the holder of the Cup by beating Gilmore in the final of the single sculls. The following year, on 13 July 1925, there was a challenge race on the River Thames between Putney and Hammersmith where Beresford successfully defended the Cup by easily overcoming Hoover.

By clicking on the following link, you will be able to watch one and a half minutes of this race on the Thames. Please click here.

Later in July 1925, Beresford returned the Cup to the Schuylkill Navy as he did not want to defend it. After that the world’s top scullers have been holders of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, the last one being the Russian sculler Vladimir Ivanov in 1964. Thereafter, the Cup mysteriously disappeared, but was found in June 1996 in an antique store in Philadelphia. You can read the story about the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, its disappearing and re-surfacing, on the following link, please click here (there you will also find a list of all the holders of the Cup).

The photograph above, showing Beresford and Hoover, is from the Thomas E. Weil Collection of the National Rowing Foundation. It is now on display at the rowing exhibit “Let Her Run” at Mystic Seaport Museum. Below the photograph is Beresford’s famous saying: “There is no disgrace in being beaten when you are trying to win.”

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