The Miracle 9 – 1936 Olympic Men’s Rowing Team
Before the boys of Miracel on Ice, there was another miracle team, and they were the 1936 NCAA Rowing Team of the Washington Huskies.
This group of boys are among the greatest underdog champions in American history because of their unique and inspiring story. They literally came from nowhere to beat all the best rowing M8 crews in the country and later the world. They were an ordinary group of college kids from the rural North West, during the Great Depression. They had never left the state of Washington before competing for the Huskies. Their story takes place during a time in history when when the country needed heroes and much like the great Jesse Owens, these heroes inspired a nation.
The first test for this crew came in April on Lake Washington. The freshmen and JV won their races easily, and the varsity finished the sweep with a three length victory over California, the defending champions. Two months later all three crews were back in Poughkeepsie and swept that race too. The win completed the first ever sweep of the Poughkeepsie by a west coast crew – and was the first ever varsity win for Coach Ulbrickson.
From Poughkeepsie the men traveled to Princeton New Jersey for the Olympic trials. On July 5th they met a polished Pennsylvania Club Crew, New York Club Crew, and Ky Ebright’s California crew for the right to represent the country in the Olympics. Ulbrickson’s now practiced strategy of “Keep the stroke down and then mow ’em down in the finishing sprints worked again to another thrilling victory.
The men stayed at the New York Athletic Club rowing quarters on Travers Island north of New York until departing with the entire Olympic Team for Hamburg aboard the S.S. Manhattan. Once in Germany, the team stayed near Lake Grunau, the site of the Olympic competition, at Koepenik. The team worked out twice a day on the lake, and dined at night with all of their competitors in the same mess hall. They also participated in the Opening Ceremonies, marching before Hitler and 120,000 frantic German fans, and attended some of the games.
The flag dropped and the race began to the sound of throngs of cheering crowds. Italy and England moved up with Germany closing in. Italy and Germany vied for the lead with England in the mix. With about 500 meters left in the race the Huskies crew would sprint to pass the Italians and Germans. The confidence of the Americans had remained strong; in every race in 1936, this crew had fallen behind, only to gain it back. The crowds were chanting “Deutsch-land, Deutsch-land, Deutsch-land”, and yet it was in that last 200 meters that the United States went from third to first, crossing the line about ten feet in front of Italy, with Germany third.
The exhausted crew rowed in front of the grandstand, then to the dock, where a wreath was placed over the head of each oarsman and the coxswain. There were no interviews. The men stayed in their quarters that night. The next day they received their medals in the Olympic stadium; after the games were over, they went home various ways, some choosing to travel Europe, others going straight home.
Historically speaking, the 1936 Washington crew would have been memorable without the Olympic victory. They completed their season as undefeated National Champions – and then – World and Olympic champions. And forever will they hold that honor.
To learn more about these group champians this is a good read: