Make Way for Ducks

Bobby Pearce in the 1930s. Photo:

7 February 2018

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

There are many good stories in the sport of rowing, some true and others not…

Bobby Pearce, 1928.

One of the great Olympic rowing stories is the one when Henry Robert ‘Bobby’ Pearce of Australia (later Canada) in a qualification heat in the single sculls at the 1928 Amsterdam Games stopped in mid-race to make way for some ducks, which were crossing the course on the Sloten Canal, where the rowing events were held. Pearce waited patiently for the ducks to pass while his opponent, Victor Saurin, of France, took the lead. In Pearce’s own words:

I had beaten a German [Walter Flinsch] and a Dane [Arnold Schwartz] in earlier heats and I was racing a Frenchman [Victor Saurin] when I heard wild roars from the crowd along the bank of the canal. I could see some spectators vigorously pointing to something behind me, in my path. I peeked over one shoulder and saw something I didn’t like, for a family of ducks in single file was swimming slowly from shore to shore. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t at the time for I had to lean on my oars and wait for a clear course, and all the while my opponent was pulling away to a five length lead.

Of course, the Australian caught up with Saurin, passed him and beat the Frenchman by 29 seconds. In a semi-final heat Pearce beat David Collet, of Great Britain, and easily overpowered Ken Myers, of USA, in the final. Pearce also took the Olympic gold medal in the single sculls in the 1932 Games in Los Angeles.

The Chinese internet company Alibaba is now using Bobby Pearce’s ‘make-way-for-ducks’ moment in a commercial. Take a look below (who the third sculler is in this two-man race is a mystery):

In June 2012, HTBS wrote about Pearce’s rowing cups and medals going up for auction at Bonhams in London. Take a look here. The lot sold for £49,250 ($68,313) including premium.


  1. There was no third rower in the Skiff single race between Pearce and Saurin.

    I think it is called Artistic Licence.

    The race was the Third Series, with Pearce defeating TDA Collett of Great Britain in the semi-final, then defeating K Myers in the final to take gold.

  2. Another point, the video shows Pearce rowing close to buoys in the centre of the course. Why one set if there are meant to be three rowers? Tough job for the Umpire who is nowhere to be seen [1min mark have great overview]. A nice clip though.

  3. Pearce is rowing in the middle of the course, next to a set of buoys. Why not two sets of buoys to separate the rowers? Tough job for the Umpire who is nowhere to be seen!

    Louis Petrin

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