It is hard to make the boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of the men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.
– George Yeoman Pocock.
Daniel James Brown had put together the essentials of how and what constituted the American rowing crew which went on to become the champions of the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Up until I picked up this book, I was unaware of the adversities that had to be faced when you bring together a bunch of men, put them on a boat and simply asked them to row. The physical strain is undoubtedly one but, how it actually fosters a sense of brotherhood and moulds the whole crew as a single entity had been brought to life by the author rather splendidly.
Each chapter starts off with a few words of wisdom by George Yeoman Pocock; who plays a pivotal role in moulding up the American crew for the Berlin Olympics and also the man who was responsible for bringinging to life the best racing shells in production at that time. The book doesn’t entirely focus on the disciplines of the sport which might not be of great interest to readers who are not acquainted with it. But, rather it explains how boys of average and below average upbringings had to wrestle it out to earn their mark. It emphasizes on the bridge of trust that has to exist between men. One of the best parts of this read was where the author explains about what is referred to as the ‘Swing’ in terms of rowing jargons which he goes onto explain as the most beautiful and enriching experience that rowers experience when the entire racing shell functions and steers ahead as a single living, breathing soul; where, the rows dip in and out of the water in unison and where the entire crew breathes in as one.
The book also primarily points it’s focus on the life and times of Joe Rantz, who is portrayed as the lead protagonist in the book. Having lost his mother at a very early age, and having a troubled childhood in his formative years, Joe was left to fend for himself. His decision to join the University of Washington’s rowing crew helped him regain the lost trust he had in others and helped him revive his outlook on life in general. The case of Bobby Moch who steered the American shell is another yet inspirational character in the book where his unquestioning attitude as the coxswain is worth mentioning.
The book throws light on the state of Germany right up to the point of the Berlin Olympics as to how the Nazi propaganda was being played out at that time and on the works of Leni Riefenstahl’s involvement in documenting the Berlin Olympics. The American crew’s win in the Olympics of 1936 has been beautifully portrayed as challenge of might against fascist Germany where the Americans rowed head to head with their German counterparts and eventually to outrun them; and, all this when the Fuhrer himself was overseeing the waltz at play. Perhaps, a prequel to what he was to expect in years to come with the entry of the Americans into the great war which eventually threw him off.
The part that intrigued me the most of this book was how the author describes the state of comradeship that continued to exist between the men even after the Olympics. The book truly very much upholds the axiom that, sport builds character; as, it is evident from the transformation that each of these oarsmen of the American crew had underwent. This is inarguably a great read for sports enthusiasts or even otherwise for that matter. On the case of the language or the literature that is being used, it is simple and lucid for the average reader. Definitely a must read as per my recommendations.