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03 Sep 1960
Rome 1960

German eight ends era of American invincibility

It did not need a fortune teller to predict the favourites for gold in the rowing eights. The USA had won the title at the previous eight editions of the Games; it was an event that the Americans placed great importance on, and a ninth consecutive crown was almost regarded as inevitability.

The previous victories hadn't always been easy – in 1932 and 1936 they had been achieved by less than a second – but they had helped the US crews acquire a veneer of invincibility.

However, there was one group of people who thought the Americans could be beaten – and that was the German crew.

It was customary for a single rowing club to represent their country – the Americans had won in 1956 with a crew entirely made up of rowers from Yale University, for instance – but Germany had decided to buck the trend, selecting a mix of rowers from two clubs – Ratzeburg and Ditmarsia Kiel.

It proved to be a winning formula. In the first round, the Germans won their heat at a fast pace. The Czechoslovak crew also progressed, winning their heat in a much slower time, but the biggest shock came in the third heat, with Canada easily beating the USA. The Americans still managed to qualify for the final via the repêchage, but their rivals sensed the opportunity for a famous victory.

In the final, Germany took the lead from the start and never lost it, crossing the line in the spectacular time of 5 minutes 57.18 seconds, the only boat to go under 6 minutes. Canada finished in second place, more than four seconds back, with the Czechoslovak crew claiming bronze. As for the Americans, they came home in fifth, more than 10 seconds behind the Germans, to miss out on the gold medal for the first time in 40 years. It proved to be a blip as they were to regain their title four years later in Tokyo.

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