Ben Spock On 1924 Olympic Eight: Part 3 – The Trials

Here follows part 3 in the story about the letter by Ben Spock, seven-seat in Yale’s eight which took a gold medal at the Olympic rowing regatta in Paris, to the seven-seat man in Yale’s Olympic eight of 1956, Richard ‘Rusty’ Wailes. The bold text parts are Spock’s text, while the italicized text parts are my comments.

6. The Trials – We went to Philadelphia and stayed in a big house in the country owned by a Yale graduate. In the first heat on the 13th on the first turn at Philadelphia we were very nearly put out of the race by the Navy junior varsity which pushed us against the shore and for two or three strokes our oars overlapped. In that heat we beat the Navy varsity, the Navy junior varsity and the Undine boat club. The other heat consisted of M.I.T., Pennsylvania, New York A.C. and the Navy graduates – the 1920 Olympic Crew. The race of the second boats was Saturday morning and the race of the finals was Saturday afternoon which we won by 4/5th of a second in 5:51 1/5.

7. Harvard race – On Monday and Tuesday the week of the Harvard race we had our first four-mile time trials, rowing upstream at 26 or 28 on successive days and on one of them beating the then existing upstream race record. The race on Friday, the 20th, was downstream and we won by several lengths.

8. Strokes – For the four-mile race we rowed about 34 the first minute and dropped more slowly than you do today and rowed the balance of the race at 28 or 29 although we were prepared to row at 30 if we had to. In the Olympic distance we rowed about 39 or 40 for the first full minute and dropped down slowly and rowed about a full minute in the middle of the race at about 35 and then worked on up. This was true both in this country and abroad.

The only change in our style was that after we got abroad we had ideal rowing conditions and we were able to get in some very valuable additional practice and during that time considerably strengthened our finish and speeded up our recovery.

White Star Line’s RMS Homeric

9. Transportation – A special train was at the siding at Gales Ferry Friday night and out shell put aboard a baggage car along with a spare shell. The other car on the train was a sleeper which took our party to Grand Central, arriving at about 2:00 o’clock in the morning. At that time the shell was carried through Grand Central waiting room and put on a truck and taken directly to the ship’s side of the Homeric and swung on board and lashed down in the bow of the ship covered only with canvas. The Party making the trip consisted of one Rowing Committee member who held the letter of credit, [Yale rowing coach] Ed Leader, [boat builder] Dick Pocock, [assistant coach] Sid Coe, the nine of the crew, a substitute coxswain and four substitute oarsmen, the manager and an assistant manager. Our accommodations were scattered through the first-class of the Homeric. Four rowing machines were screwed into the boat deck where one of the life boats was swung over the side and we had two hard workouts a day on the rowing machines in addition to doing calisthenics. Gloria Swanson [seen on the left] was on board but was not in our party.# Our captain [James Rockefeller, who made the cover of the Time Magazine on 7 July 1924, seen on top!] met his wife on the boat and between these two extremes various other possibilities were considered.

#[Although none of the crew might have met the famous movie star Gloria Swanson on board the ship, it seems Ed Leader did, if one is to believe Thomas Mendenhall, who in his excellent book The Harvard-Yale Boat Race 1852-1924, writes, that on the Homeric “Dancing every evening had a Cinderella quality /…/ the stag line persuaded Ed Leader to cut in on Gloria Swanson…”]

See also:
“Ben Spock On 1924 Olympic Eight: Part 1 – Prelude”
“Ben Spock On 1924 Olympic Eight: Part 2 – Comparisons”

Ben Spock’s letter is posted on HTBS with the permission of the NRF, which is the owner of this letter! Ben Spock’s letter, Part 4, will continue tomorrow.

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