Before the 1956 Olympic rowing regatta on Lake Wendouree, Ballarat, Australia, the U.S. eight had not lost one single Olympic race since 1920, winning gold 1920, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1948 and 1952. However, when the young men from Yale raced in their first heat at Ballarat, they only managed to take a third place, beaten by Australia and Canada. Slightly embarrassed, the Yalies made sure to win the repechage heat, then winning in the semi-final, and then crossing the finish line as the first boat in the final, taking the Olympic gold. After having crossed the line, three-seated John Cooke collapsed, giving everything he had in him.
In the old, interesting video above both John Cooke and David Wight are interviewed about the races. At the Rowing History Forum, held in March 2008, Wight gave a thrilling talk about how it felt to belong to an American crew who lost an Olympic race (and despite that, becoming Olympic champions). John Cooke’s 1956 Olympic oar now hangs in the NRF’s National Rowing Hall of Fame at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut.