It had been four years since the 1968 finsco in Mexico City. A lot had happened since that time when the U.S. had been shamed into rowing submission at the XIX Olympied. Harry Parker remembered. He had been there, Livingston. Hobbs. Livingston. They remembered too. They had been a part of the 1968 disgrace. To them the memory of coming in an embarassing sixth behind the East Germans was all too vivid. Munich was their second shot to redeem themselves. Munich was possibly their last shot.
Four years ago few of them would have given themselves much of a chance to get into Olmpic competition again. AS seniors on the Harvard eight that had represented the United States in Mexico City most of them had realized that they would be going their separate rowing ways after the Games. There had been no tommorrow for them as oursmen. Therefore the sting of their decisive defeat lingered.
It sill lingered when, earlier this year, the U.S. Olympic Committee announced that the U.S. would no longer choose its crew team by the boatload. Olympic coach Harry Parker, who had carved out a well known niche for himself in U.S. rowing circles with his coaching exploits at Harvard, threw out the old method of selecting infact the best U.S. eight for the Olympics. Instead Parker brought in the individual selection process, the system that had made East Germany and New Zealand centers of power in the rowing world. Parker and the U.S. Olympic Committee, discouraged by the steady downhill slide of U.S. rowing in international competition since 1968, wanted to give it a try.
For the seven veterans of Mexico City the decision ws the beginning of a second life--and the beginning of a trip back to Olympic Village.
Parker drew a lot of flak when, alter an arduous eight-month selection process, eight of the fourteen-man Olympic squad turned out to be Harvard alumni. 1972 Crimson stars Tony Brooks and Deve Sawyior joined the Mexico City veterans in the quest to recapture the stature lost south of the border four years ago.
The Americans, new in the "national team business," were the mystery of international rowing circles as they broke camp in the wilds of Hanover. N.H. and headed to pre--Olympic competitions in Germany. The Americans, though long on enthusiasm (guarded as it might be). were short on both size and experience by international standards. Besides, they were handicapped by the fact that when they left for Europe. They had been together as a unit for less than a week and had had no races.
The Harvard...er...United States...oarsmen quickly announced in force that they had arrived. It was a power play the like of which had not been seen since Normandy. In the West-German Championships, run less than two weeks after Parker had decided his seating alignment for the Olympics, the Americans stunned the international rowing world by winning the regatta in a course record 5:48.58. The Americans soundly defeated the West German runners up by four seconds, while swamping world power New Zealand by two full lengths. The Americans had arrived and, in a little under six minutes actual racing competition, were being hailed as "the fastest boat to come out of the U.S. in ten years," and odds-on favorites to strike Olympic gold at Munich.
It was far too early, however, to make concrete predictions, and Parker, while impressed with the early success he had gained with his "new" eight refused to go out on a limb. At the time he shied from comparing his Harvard studded Olympic squad with other world powers, and back in Cambridge last week, he re-asserted his aversion to comparisons.
"We knew that compared to the New Zealand and East German boats, we were at a disadvantage in terms of experience, size, and length of time together," Parker said. "On the other hand, if you compare this year's squad with past United States's squads, we were farther along in terms of maturity than any past U.S. team."
Parker dodged comparisons in Munich, but he possessed a kind of quiet confidence about U.S. chances as the Games drew nearer. "We had had inklings in Hanover that we had a boat capable of getting some speed," Parker said last week, "but it wasn't until we got to Germany that we discovered what we could really do."
Once the Olympics opened, the U.S. oarsmen continued their strong showing. They swept through the trials with ease, moving into the finals to face the fired-up New Zealanders and defending champion East Germans.
However, the kiwis jumped out to a commanding (and what proved to be insurmountable) lead as the race got under way. The U.S. and East German contingents were left to battle for the runner up spot. The two boats battled neck and neck for three-fourths of the race, until, with 200 meters to go, the Americans sprinted furiously to sign out the East Germans by 06 of one second. The U.S. silver medal effort was over three seconds shower than the New Zealand winning time of 6:08.94.
The strong finish placed Parker. Before the Games he had pagged the U.S. squad for a third place finish at best. The silver medal surpassed his expectations.