The German Champion Gustav Schäfer

Before Gustav Schäfer (1906-1991) began rowing, he played water polo, hockey, and football. But above all, he was interested in swimming, being a member of the swimming club in Dresden. It was also as a swimmer he got his nickname, “Gummi” [rubber], when he overran a favorite swimmer on a 1,500-metre course with the length of his hand, his opponent said: “Der Hund war zäh wie Gummi.” [“The dog was tough as rubber.” – alluding to Gustav’s family name, Schäfer, ‘shepard’.]

In 1929, ‘Gummi’ Schäfer was approached by the coach at Dresden Ruder-Verein and began thereafter successfully to row in fours and eights. However, by 1934, he was concentrating on the single scull, having joined another rowing club in Berlin, Skuller-Zelle, Berlin-Grünau, which had an English professional coach, Dan Cordery. With Cordery, Schäfer found the perfect trainer. In 1934, a little surprisingly, Schäfer became the German Champion in the single sculls, beating the favourite sculler, Herbert Buhtz. The same year, Schäfer also went to the European Championships in Lucerne and took the championship title in the single sculls.

The following year, ‘Gummi’, failed to defend his German title against Buhtz, but beat Buhtz at the 1936 German Championships and was selected to represent Germany in the single at the Olympic rowing event in Berlin. In the final, Schäfer did not have any problems winning the Olympic championship title with a couple of lengths ahead of Josef Hasenöhrl, Austria, and Daniel Barrow, USA. The favourite before the race, Ernst Rufli of Switzerland, Diamond Challenge Sculls winner both in 1935 and 1936, finished fifth. Here is a short clip from the single scull final (please, turn off the sound to get rid of the very annoying music):

After the Olympic gold medal, ‘Gummi’ Schäfer decided to quit rowing. Later that year, he and his rowing friend Georg von Opel founded the German Olympic Society. Schäfer’s old coach, Dan Cordery, tried to interest him to go back to sculling for the upcoming Olympic Games in 1940. But ‘Gummi’ was not game, and after the political climate grew worse in Nazi-Germany, Cordery left the country in 1938.

In a 1989 interview by Gisa Jacobus in Rudersport, the 80-year-old Schäfer, who by then was confined to a wheelchair remembers Cordery, “Mein lieber, englischer Trainer”.

Schäfer died in Munich in 1991.

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