Strange But True: Never Say Die

In the 1956 Olympics the United States was represented by the Yale rowing crew. Yale had a very strong group, and most experts thought it had a good chance to win. But in the first race Yale finished third behind Canada and Australia.

In many Olympic events one loss means elimination. But in rowing there is a kind of double elimination called repechage (reh-peh-SHAHZH). A losing team can continue competing until it loses for the second time.

In the second race Yale defeated crews from Italy, Great Britain, and France. In the next race the Americans were pitted against Russia, Japan, and Australia. Once before, in the fist race, Australia had defeated the American crew. Now Yale came out ahead, with Australia second.

Finally the Americans were matched against Canada and Australia. Both teams had beaten Yale once. This was the showdown race.

At first Canada led the way, but Australia caught up and passed them. Yale was rowing at the rate of 36 strokes a minute, which was faster than usual for them, but they kept up the pace. Soon they were dead even with the Canadians and Australians. Sensing victory, Yale increased the beat to 40 strokes per minute. Slowly they edged ahead. America won by a mere half-length. Australia was second, Canada third.

It had been a thrilling, come-from-behind victory. Yale captain Tom Charlton praised his own teammates and their opponents in the true spirit of Olympic competition. He said, “We’re the toughest crews ever put together. And we beat the best.”

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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1 Comment

  1. According to the first person account, which is the 2nd link, the crew team was puking their guts out after the 2nd and 3rd races (some guys were even puking while standing on the medal stand).  Also, the quote from the captain went, “We’re the toughest crew ever put together. And we beat the best.”

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