7 August 2016
In Part I, published yesterday, Tim Koch looked at how important the 1912 Stockholm Games was for the development of the Olympic Movement. Here he looks more specifically at the 1912 Olympic Regatta.
The Single Sculls
There were entries from 13 competitors from eleven nations: Russia, Austria, Germany (two), Australasia, Canada, Finland, Great Britain, Hungary (two), Denmark, Belgium and Bohemia. The final was between William Kinnear of Britain and Polydore Veirman of Belgium. The 31-year-old Kinnear won with ease but the real final was in fact in the heat where he met his most serious opposition, the 26-year-old Canadian, Everard Butler, the 1911 United States national champion in the single sculls and in the quarter-mile dash. Butler had set a good time of 7:39.9 in his row-over in the quarter-finals but when he met Kinnear in the semi-final, the Briton lowered the best winning time to 7:37.0. In a 1965 audio recording, Kinnear recalled the race:
In the (semi) final race against this (Canadian) he went off at a terrific dash and left me a length down in the first minutes sculling (inaudible) I’d never been left in my life before, barring Ernest Barry doing it. But I looked at this chap, there he was, burying his sculls up to his elbows nearly and his face screwed up (laughs) so I just settled down to my own style of sculling and after about half a minute or a minute I had a (inaudible) with me and I felt that I was all right, I was the master of the race……
It could easily have been different. Kinnear further remembered:
But for two days as I went up for the heats, I found that my swivels of my sculling boat after I had left the raft came unstuck….. But the (New Collage) boatman, I will always remember he was very good, he sat by my boat the day of the final, he sat by it all the time I was home having lunch, as I came down he said that nobody touched my boat. He tightened everything up and everything was all right.
It is a shame that neither of Kinnear’s two real threats, Butler and, as earlier noted, McVilly, made the final. This has added to the myth, started by contemporary newspaper reports, that the Briton had no decent opposition Stockholm.
My biography of WD Kinnear is available as a free pdf via HTBS, here.
The (Outrigged) Coxed Fours
The fours had been coxed in the 1900 Games but coxless in 1904 and in 1908. However, the Swedish organisers decided to make it a coxed race again in 1912. The British and the Germans and probably some others objected to this. Not only did they want a coxless fours competition, they wanted events for the doubles and the coxless pairs included as well. Page 659 of the official report said this of the fours debate:
Energetic arguments were raised, both in Great Britain and in Germany, to show that just these boats produced the best rowing, and that in no other type was the art of rowing so well developed as in these. Consequently, it was said, it would be unjust to exclude these boats from a World’s Championship for Amateurs; the competition would lose its real sporting character, and there would be no opportunity of properly measuring the development of the art of rowing.
However, the Swedes insisted that all the crew boats should be coxed, better to cope with the bend in the course and the arches of the Djurgården Bridge. Considering the standard of the competitors, this was strange reasoning.
Eleven crews from nine nations eventually took part. Norway and Denmark entered two boats each, the others came from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain and Sweden. The final was between Britain, represented by Thames RC, and Germany, represented by Ludwigshafen. Both crews were a little older than those they had beaten on the way to the final with Britain’s ‘Berry’ Beresford, the senior man in the race, at 44. The official report thought it worthy to mention this, also adding another observation:
The Germans crew possessed great physical power and was of a comparatively mature average age, features also characteristic of the English four representing the Thames RC….. (The Ludwigshafen) number 3, with his billowing Germanic beard, reminded one of a Viking, and his appearance contrasted strangely with that of the other oarsmen, most of whom were clean shaven or had only small moustaches.
Facial hair aside, it was a close race for the first 500 metres but after that the Germans began to pull away, eventually winning by two lengths, ‘passing the post in excellent condition’. Geoffrey Page, an apologist for all things Thames, much later noted that ‘the Bean (Karl Vernon) was suffering from a boil and Bruce Logan had been stung by a wasp’.
The Inrigged Coxed Fours
Stranger than the choice of the conventional coxed four over the coxless boat was the inclusion of the inrigged four, a boat the HTBS has previously written about. This was a peculiarly Nordic craft and it was the only boat the construction of which was clearly defined in the rules. In the words of Göran R Buckhorn, ‘the inrigger would never again appear at an Olympic rowing event, and has to be regarded as an Olympic curiosity’. Not surprisingly this boat class only attracted crews from Denmark (two entries), Sweden (two entries) and Norway, with France the only non-Scandinavian competitor.
The final was between Nykjøbings paa Falster of Denmark and Roddklubben af 1912 from Sweden. The chatty official report summarised the race:
Both crews rowed nicely and evenly, keeping side by side, until the 1,000 metres mark was reached, when the Danish crew, exhibiting perfect style and great physical power, began to take the lead. The Swedish crew was somewhat handicapped by the circumstance that some of the men had taken part in a punishing race against New College in the eights competition on the same day…… Consequently, they had little hope of winning when, before the bridge was reached, the Danes began a final spurt, which gave them the race by a clear length. The Danish crew can be taken as the model of perfect rowing in inriggers, and its well-deserved victory was greeted by everyone – not least by its Swedish opponents – with hearty cheers.
Eleven crews from eight countries contested what is arguably the ‘Blue Riband’ event of any regatta – the eights. There were two boats each from Great Britain, Germany and Sweden while Australasia, Canada, France, Hungary and Norway put in one eight each. Potentially, the heats could have been very exciting. Canada’s Toronto Argonauts had won the 1911 championships of the U.S. National Association of Amateur Oarsmen. Australasia had won the Grand at the previous Henley by defeating both the British representatives at Stockholm (Leander and New College, Oxford), plus the Canadians. However, in a bad draw, Leander and the Argonauts were drawn against each other in the first round. The excitable official report takes up the story:
Leander rowed in orthodox English style, with a long swing, quiet, finished recovery, a powerful grip of the water and a stroke that was drawn out to the last inch. Canada relied more on muscle, and the tremendous rate at which they rowed prevented a proper recovery. The crew, although beaten, fought like heroes, and lost after the pluckiest struggle imaginable.
Leander had another hard fight in the quarter-finals as they took revenge on the Australasians who defeated them at Henley. The British were behind for most of the way, considerably underrating their opponents. However, the leader’s fitness began to fail and the boats were level with 100 metres to go. A last push saw Leander win by three metres. The next race against Berlin was very similar, the pink blades trailing and underrating for much of the race, spurting to win by half a length at the end.
On the other side of the draw, the New College crew had a relatively easy time of it, winning the first round against Norway by two lengths and the quarter against Sweden by one – and then they received a bye in the semi-finals.
In the all-British final, the two crews were level for the first half of the race but Leander then slowly drew away from New College and won by a length.
Readers with good memories will recall that in May 2015 I reproduced a picture of the future Edward VIII at Oxford’s Eights Week. It was from the album of Magdalen College Boat Club’s Henry Bensley ‘Ben’ Wells, who coxed three University Boat Race victories (1911–1913) and who steered the Leander Eight at Stockholm. Below are two of Ben’s pictures from his Swedish adventure, reproduced by kind permission of Magdalen College.
Hear The Boat Sing has previously told the story of both British crews in two wonderful pieces by a descendant of one of the Leander crew, Victoria Fishburn. Click here for part one, and here for part two. The story of the centenary gathering of some of the gold medal crew’s descendants is also on HTBS, here. Göran R Buckhorn’s take on the 1912 Olympic rowing is on the Friends of Rowing History site.
A really brilliant article full of fascinating historical info.
Very nice article! Races in inrigged coxed fours are still being done in Sweden (e.g. Bajen (Hammarby) and Distansen (Vaxholm)). Also we row in them with burning torches attached during Ljusfestivalen around Brunnsviken and we use them to train basic rowing technique to beginners. Danish build.