The 13-Year-Old Boy with an Olympic Coxless Pairs Medal

A Silver Medal from the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

10 November 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch has posted Fake News.

I always assumed that Sir Tim Berners-Lee was a man that you could trust. The Queen has seen fit to make him a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire and he also has been awarded the Order of Merit and is a Fellow of the Royal Society. Further, ‘Tim’ is the sort of name given to chaps who play a straight bat (providing that they do not have a note excusing them from games). However, I was recently shocked to discover that his ‘World Wide Web’ thingy contains at least one supposed fact that is not true. In my recent obituary of Sam Mackenzie, I posted a picture of the great Australian sculler congratulating his rival, Vyacheslav Ivanov, after the Russian had beaten him to take gold at the 1956 Olympic Sculls on Lake Wendouree in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.

Ivanov (left) and Mackenzie after the 1956 Olympic Sculls final.

I originally included in the picture caption the story that:

Ivanov was so thrilled when he was presented with his gold medal that he jumped up and down with joy and dropped the medal into Lake Wendouree. He dived in to retrieve it, but failed. Later, he was given a replacement.

My source for this ‘fun fact’ was the Wikipedia page for the 1956 Olympic Sculls. I try to double check my Internet sources but this story had a reference to a real book, the sort made out of trees: David Wallechinsky’s The Complete Book of the Olympics (1984), Penguin Books. p. 348. A Penguin book was good enough for me.

It was a good story but, unfortunately, I (and many others) had got the wrong ‘V. Ivanov’, the wrong colour medal and the wrong outcome. Fortunately, at least two other rowing historians are not so gullible.

After Sam’s obituary was posted, I got a nice email from Andrew Guerin who runs the splendid Australian Rowing History website. It included this comment:

One very minor correction regarding Ivanov at 1956 Games. It was Victor Ivanov, stroke of the coxless pair who lost his medal, not Vyacheslav Ivanov. I attach a newspaper article from the time with the story.

A contemporary Australian newspaper account of how Victor Ivanov’s Silver Medal was found and returned to him by a 13-year-old schoolboy within a few days of the Russian dropping it into Lake Wendouree.

It was particularly poor of me to get this story wrong as American rowing historian Tom Weil had published many of the true facts on HTBS only six months previously in a piece subtitled “Accidents and Agonies Across the Finish Line”. Tom posted a press photo taken seconds after Victor had dropped his prize.

дерьмо́! Victor drops his medal.

Included with the photo was the typed explanation sent out with the image to the world’s newspapers:

(November 29, 1956) Drops His Medal in the Lake – Holding the empty box in his hand, Russian rower V. Ivanov watches his silver medal sink to the bottom after dropping it following the presentation to him and fellow-oarsman I. Bouldakov (bow) for their second place in the pair oars without coxswain event at Ballarat. Mr. Avery Brundage, President of the International Olympic Committee, who made the presentation, saw Ivanov about to plunge in to retrieve it, and told him he would see that another medal was presented to him.

This contradicts the above newspaper report that Victor jumped into the lake to try and retrieve his medal, but the detail about Avery Brundage gives this version credibility. However, wet or not, Victor Ivanov soon ended up with his original silver medal back, not a replacement. This makes sense because if things had happened as I had first reported them, Sam Mackenzie would have surely joined Vyacheslav Ivanov in searching the bottom of Lake Wendouree and, had he found the gold medal, Sam, ever the tease, may well have claimed it as rightfully his!

One comment

  1. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction. I wonder if Andrew Hemingway is still alive to recount his side of the story ?

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