Pertti Karppinen was a Finnish fireman standing over two metres tall. He also won gold medals at the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, in the single sculls event.
At the Montreal Games of 1976, he became Finland's first rowing gold medallist when he came from behind and upset the reigning world champion, Germany's Peter Michael Kolbe. Taking out third place in that race was another strong competitor, Joachim Dreifke.
The Moscow Games of 1980 saw many Western bloc countries boycott the Olympics. There was no Kolbe in attendance but Karppinen still had to race the Soviet's Vassily Yakusha. This he did and won by over two seconds.
Then at Los Angeles. 1984, the Finn and the German faced off against each other again. Kolbe was now a ball-bearing salesman in Norway and the winner of four world championships. He took the early lead but Karppinen, as usual, came from behind and caught Kolbe after 1750 metres. By taking out his third Olympic crown Karppinen equalled the great Vyacheslav Ivanov's record of three gold medals.
During his career, Karppinen had developed a long standing rivalry with Kolbe. Kolbe took silver behind the Finn at Montreal and Los Angeles but his country had boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980.
Karppinen rowed at Seoul (1988) but didn't make the finals. However, Kolbe had to settle for silver again, this time behind East Germany's Thomas Lange.
In 1924, Bill Havens was selected to row for the USA in the eights at the Olympic Games. Shortly before the team was due to leave for Paris, he asked to be withdrawn. His wife was expecting their first baby and he did not want to be separated from her at this time.
His wife pleaded for him to reconsider but Havens still refused the trip to Paris and so he lost a certain gold medal. America had little trouble in winning the eights.
There was to be an interesting compensation for Bill Havens and it happened twenty eight years later.
At the Helsinki Games in 1952, the son whom he had stayed at home for, Frank Havens, won the Olympic gold medal in the Canadian singles 10,000 metres canoeing championship.
Standing at 185cms and weighing close to 95kgs, Australia's Stuart Mackenzie was one of the biggest men in world rowing when he competed on the world stage between the mid 1950's and the mid 60's. And he was one of the best rowers this country has ever produced.
A chicken sexer by trade, Mackenzie competed in the single sculls event at the Australian championships held at Ballarat in 1956. He was a mere 19 years old and not long out of the Kings School in Sydney when he took on the best scullers in the land, including the legendary Merv Wood. The championships were the Olympic trials for the Melbourne Games. Mackenzie easily won and prepared himself for his first international competition.
The young Australian easily qualified for the Olympic final and led the race with less than 100 metres to go. But then he seemed to stop paddling. The great Russian champion, Vyascheslav Ivanov, came from behind and took out the gold medal.
Mackenzie's explanation was that he had planned to lead throughout the race and put in his final burst, 200 metres from the finish line. He said officials had placed buoys at 100 metre intervals for most of the course but changed the placement to 50 metre intervals for the last 250 metres. Not aware of this, he counted the buoys and thought he had finished the race when in fact he was still a hundred metres out. His strength sapped, he could barely pull his oars through the water and Ivanov shot past him for Olympic glory.
The following year, 1957, saw Mackenzie come of age as an international rower. He not only won championships in New Zealand and Belgium, but became the first Australian to win a European championship. He also took out the famed Henley Diamond Sculls. That same year he was the ABC Sportsman of the Year.
Two years later he became the first man in history to win both the single and double sculls at Henley. However he also stood out as the most unpopular winner in the history of the event.
He carried on with outrageous behaviour. Once he wore a bowler hat while racing and on another occasion, he stopped mid race to adjust his cap. His opponent caught up, and then Mackenzie rowed away to win easily. This did not go down well with the English aristocratic rowing community!
With the 1960 Olympics looming, the Aussie was clearly the best rower in the world. However, when he got to Rome, he took ill and had to withdraw from the competition. His old rival, Ivanov, took out his second consecutive gold medal but Mackenzie had constantly beaten him since 1956.
At Henley, in 1961, he again won the title and the following year he broke an 80-year-old record by winning his sixth consecutive title. He was told he would have to return to Australia for test races prior to the Perth Commonwealth Games but Mackenzie told officials just what they could do with their trials.
He continued to race in Europe until 1965 when he raced in the European championships, in the double sculls, and finished eighth. He retired shortly afterwards.
Australia's greatest rower, and one of the best rowers of all-time, worldwide, would have to be Bobby Pearce.
Pearce was born in 1905 and grew up in the Sydney suburb of Double Bay. He came from a very distinguished family of sportsmen, several of whom followed his footsteps into the Olympic rowing arena.
The Australian went to his first Games in 1928. He swept all before him in the single sculls event and in the final beat the American Kenneth Myers by five lengths. In doing so he set a world record of 7 mins., 11secs.
After being rowed back to the start line and past the cheering spectators, the young Pearce broke into tears. He had never experienced such adulation. His father, who witnessed the scene, said, "Bob is a greater sculler than I thought. Today, he would beat anyone in the world."
Following the 1928 Olympics, Pearce continued his career and established himself as the best rower in the world. He won the Diamond Sculls at Henley-on-Thames, on two occasions, and took out his specialty at the first British Empire Games in Hamilton, Canada, in 1930. Bobby liked Hamilton and he gained employment there with a whisky company. He took up residence in Canada and returned to Australia only briefly after that.
By the time the Games had rolled around in 1932, Pearce was considered a near certainty to retain his Olympic title. He travelled to Los Angeles by car and his father was there as a coach. All was in place for Bobby to repeat.
The final was a great race. Pearce took the early lead but was pegged back by the American, William Miller. By the time the gun was fired to signify the finish of the race, the Aussie had created Olympic history by being the first man to win the single sculls at successive Games.
There is a wonderful story about Pearce and his Amsterdam campaign. In a quarter-final he was racing a Frenchman. Mid-race he stopped to allow a duck and her ducklings to cross the course from shore to shore. His rival took the lead but he was no match for the Australian. Pearce caught him and won the race comfortably.
However it was not the victory which gained him the praise of the Dutch audience. It was the gesture of stopping for the ducks which won him the respect and goodwill of the citizens of Amsterdam and the admiration of the whole world.
There is no doubt the aborigines participated in sports and games long before white man arrived on the shores of Australia. There is evidence they liked canoeing, swimming and fishing and would have obviously arranged competitions in theses sports.
But what was the first sport after 1788?
Most research points to the fact the first sporting event was a rowing race between crews of the ships of the First Fleet. The date of this first race is not recorded but there is every reason to believe it took place shortly after the Fleet arrived in January of '88.
It should be remembered rivalry between the crews would have been built up during the long voyage to The Great Southern Land. Some of this rivalry might have been released soon after they anchored in Botany Bay on Friday, 20th January. They may have even raced to be the first boat to reach the shore of this strange new land.
From that day on there were daily opportunities to race. Trips to and from the fleet at anchor and the many expeditionary trips into the bays and rivers were all by long boat. To help urge the crews on, this friendly rivalry could have been extended to the officers in charge of each boat.
The first recorded rowing race in Australia took place on 16th May, 1818. It took place when a four-oared gig, stroked by a John Piper, won a race from Bradley's Head to Sydney Cove, in Sydney Harbour. Between 1818 and 1827 Piper's crews won many races and usually collected on side bets.
The first regatta took place on the Derwent River, Hobart, on 5th January, 1827.
The youngest gold medallist in Olympic history is believed to be the French boy who coxed the Dutch pairs to victory in 1900. Unfortunately the name of this youngster is unknown but it has been established he was between seven and ten years of age. The original cox had been Hermanus Brockman but following the heats he was replaced as he was considered to be too heavy.
Incidentally, Brockmann had some success at those first Paris Games as a cox with other teams. He guided the Dutch fours to a silver medal and the eights to a bronze.
A number of other coxswains have been very young. Another French boy, Noel Vandernotte was aged 12 years and 233 days when he won bronze medals at the '36 Games with the French pairs and fours. The latter team included his father and his uncle.
At the other end of the scale is Robert Zimonyi. In 1964 he was cox of the American eights when he was 46 years and 180 days. That team won the gold medal and made Zimonyi the oldest ever gold medallist in rowing.
The oldest oarsman to win a gold medal was Guy Nickalls from Britain who was a member of their eights in 1908. He was 42 years and 170 days.
Australian sculler Merv Wood has the distinction of having competed at four Olympic Games over a period of twenty years, 1936 to 1956. In doing so, he managed to secure a full set of Olympic medals.
Wood competed at his first Games in Berlin as a member of the New South Wales police team which represented Australia in the eights. He rowed at number five in a team which dominated in Australia but was unsuccessful overseas. Rumour has it there was dissension among team members of that eight and this is possibly the reason why Merv took up single sculls following the Berlin campaign.
The war interrupted Wood's international career but in 1948 he was selected for the London Games. The rowing events for this Olympiad were held at Henley and Wood was successful in winning the Diamond Sculls. This victory gave him the Olympic title and the first of his Olympic medals, a gold.
In 1952, at Helsinki, Wood lost his title to the great Russian, Tjukalov. However he did finish second thus adding the silver medal to his Olympic collection.
By the time 1956 rolled around, Merv Wood was thirty-nine years of age. During the Olympic trials at Ballarat to see who would gain selection to row at the Melbourne Games, the Sydney policeman came up against newcomer Stuart Mackenzie. Wood was beaten convincingly by Mackenzie and watched at the Games as his conqueror took out the silver medal.
But Wood was not finished with his quest. At the Melbourne Games he teamed up with Murray Riley in the double sculls and had the great satisfaction of finishing third. This placing allowed the quiet spoken Wood to complete his full set of Olympic medals by adding a bronze to his gold and silver.
Merv Wood continued to compete after Melbourne and paired with Mackenzie at the Cardiff Commonwealth Games in 1958 in the double sculls. He was then forty-one years old!
Australians have had a special affiliation with the men's single scull event at the Olympic Games. At Amsterdam, in 1928, and again at Los Angeles in 1932, the great Bobby Pearce had stamped himself as one of the finest rowers of all time when he won this event, back-to-back.
Then in London, after World War Two, Merv Wood took out the crown again.
Going into the Melbourne Olympics, the red hot favourite for the single sculls title was Australia's Stuart Mackenzie. The tall, strong, bronzed Aussie, who made his living as a chicken-sexer, was leading all the way. Suddenly, with the finish line only 200 metres away, a young Russian by the name of Vyacheslav Ivanov, made an incredible spurt and took out the event.
So elated was Ivanov with his victory that upon receiving his gold he jumped up and down with joy and dropped his medal into the depths of Lake Wendouree. He immediately dived into the murky water but came back up empty-handed. After the games were over he was given a replacement medal by the International Olympic Committee.
Vyacheslav Ivanov became somewhat of a legend in rowing circles. In 1960, at Lake Albano, Rome, he defended his Olympic title this time beating a German by seven seconds. Four years later he again won what many consider the premier event on the Olympic rowing program.
With 500 metres to go he staged another of his famous finishing bursts. He made up eleven seconds on the German Achim Hill, the man he had defeated in Rome.
Years later in his book, Winds of Olympic Lakes, Ivanov recalled that he had put such effort into his final burst in Tokyo that he had blacked out before the finish line.
When Vyacheslav Ivanov won his three consecutive Olympic single sculls titles, he became the first person ever to do so. Of course, since then, the Finnish rower has duplicated his feat but not bettered it.
It is interesting to note, that by three in a row Ivanov places himself in the same category as our own great Dawn Fraser who incidentally won her three golds at the same Games as the Russian.
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