Reliving an Olympic victory with crew member Bob Moch
Seattle Times columnist
Except for that nice young lady swimmer from Puyallup, our Northwest athletes didn't make much of a dent in the Sydney Olympic Games.
With this thought in mind, I went over to Woodinville the other day to visit Bob Moch.
Moch, of course, was coxswain of the great Washington eight-oared crew which sunk the Nazis in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. That was a championship that really meant something, worldwide.
The Germans, fully Nazified, and Italy, the model of fascism, expected to win. But they didn't count on the Huskies.
They were quite a crew, as Moch can attest. At 86, he can tick off the names of those great champions - Joe Rantz, George Hunt, Jim McMillan, John White, Gordon Adams, Charles Day and Roger Moris.
Moch was the heady, fiery coxswain, and the powerful and instinctively rhythmic Don Hume was at the stroke oar. Their coach was the legendary Al Ulbrickson.
As Moch talked, this great old Husky crew began to sound like a last-man club. Five of them are gone now - Hunt, Adams, White and Dr. Charles Day.
"The five of us still here get together every year for a reunion dinner," Moch said.
They were tough kids, these old Huskies. Most of them worked hard to get money for school, in forests, on fishing boats and in orchards. As another great crew coach, Charley McIntyre, once said of them, "They were so muscular you could roller skate on their backs."
The opening ceremony, before 120,000 Germans, was a scene of military splendor: Chancellor Hitler, Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi plenipotentiaries were on the reviewing stand. Crews from other nations marched past evenly and dropped their flags in respect.
The kids from Seattle refused. They ambled along at their own pace; they would not lower the U.S. flag.
Describing the race, Moch used a notepad to draw a picture of the course.
"The first two lanes were Germany and Italy. I forget the three and four lanes. Great Britain was in lane five and we were in lane six. Usually you draw for lanes but these lanes were assigned to us."
There was a quartering headwind. A hill on the left side of the course shielded Germany and Italy from the wind. Great Britain and the Huskies faced wind the whole way.
What nobody had figured was that Gordon Adams had a bad cold. Don Hume, the great stroke oar, had what today is called "walking pneumonia."
"At about 300 meters there was open water behind Germany and Italy. I yelled at Hume to take up the stroke. He was so sick he didn't respond."
In effect, it seemed, the Huskies had a zombie in front of the coxswain. Moch kept screaming through his paper megaphone. No response.
Then he thought, "I'm going to have to go to the No. 7 man to take up the stroke. `Stroke up!' I kept yelling. I might have to go to Joe Rantz. He's the No. 7 man, right behind Hume."
By now, Moch was using the dowels, two blocks of wood that held the tiller lines. Bang! Bang! Bang! The vibration of the dowels rang down the fragile shell. He had contact.
"Stroke up!" he yelled again. "Gimme 10 hard ones!" And now suddenly, some 200 meters from the finish line, Don Hume came alive. The Huskies raised the stroke to an unheard-of 44 strokes a minute.
The German crowd kept roaring in unison with its crew's stroke: "Deutsch-land! Deutsch-land! Deutsch-land!" But in a few more seconds the Seattle boat, Husky Clipper, passed Germany, then Italy.
The next day, as Moch tended to some business in the shellhouse, a German oarsman came by and nodded. "Goot, Goot," he said, pointing at the wooden dowels.
Robert Moch smiled back. The German had also heard the dowels and the Huskies were champions of the world. Goot. Very goot.
Emmett Watson's column appears Wednesdays in the Local section of The Times.
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