An Olympic Read

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

by Daniel James Brown

Dreams do come true! The rowing team from the University of Washington in Seattle experienced the epitome. Their goal was to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The young men under freshman coach Tom Bolles and later head coach Al Ulbrickson brought home the gold medal after years of hard work. In addition to their coaches, the team was gifted with the quiet presence of legendary boat builder George Pocock.

The University of Washington’s rowing team was made up of working-class young men unlike the team members of many competitors. They had to scrimp and save and do without to participate in various competitions. Just 10 days before the team was scheduled to leave for Berlin, Coach Ulbrickson learned from the U.S. Olympic Committee that his team would need to pay its way to the Olympics. They needed $5000 quickly or another team with ready funds would take their place. The city of Seattle stepped up to the challenge and the money was raised.

The Berlin Olympics was orchestrated by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and filmed by Leni Riefenstahl, Germany’s top filmmaker. The city was cleaned up and undesirables (according to the Nazis) were taken away to make a positive impression on the world.

This is a story for anyone interested in Olympic history or amateur/collegiate sports. The author was able to interview one of the team members, Joe Rantz, in preparation for writing the book. Personally, I learned a lot about rowing technique and strategy.


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