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With East Germany still in front, the crowd began to roar as New Zealand, still grimly holding on to second, tried to fight off a last-ditch lunge by Russia. Then, as raucous yelling turned to polite applause, the race ended with East Germany first, Russia second by 2.1 seconds and New Zealand only .2 second farther back in third place. By day's end not only the East German eight but every East German oarsman in St. Catharines had rowed away with either a gold or silver medal dangling from his neck. Their boats finished first in three races and second in the remaining four. The best their nearest rivals could manage—and it wasn't much—was a first and second taken by West Germany.
Meanwhile the U.S. found itself outclassed. John Van Blom and Tom McKibbon of the Long Beach Rowing Association, in double sculls, were the only Americans to make the finals and came in a respectable third. In singles, Jim Dietz of the New York Athletic Club was touted to do well but instead consistently ran out of cereal, Coke and hamburger halfway down the course. A magnificent Argentinian, Alberto Dimiddi, who daily fueled on vitamin B-12 and B-6 shots, ultimately won the overall singles title.
The U.S. eight, Vesper of Philadelphia, crewed by a hodgepodge of college and club oarsmen, had scant time to train and, as a result, although good enough to beat other club and collegiate crews including powerful Washington in selection trials, it could do no better than third at St. Catharines in the petite finale, the consolation race for losers. "The trouble with us," said Al Rosenberg, a former Vesper coach, "is that we start too late. The East Germans have years of experience by the time they reach 19 or 20. We don't reach the same level until we're 23 or 24. By then perhaps the oarsman's got a wife, a car, a military obligation. He's a dropout at 25."
"Yeah," said another observer, "but the Dynamo boys go to school and work just like ours do."
"When you have the state as an employer it's a little different," replied Rosenberg. "The state gives you time off to practice, time away from work to travel, the best training facilities. My company is in business to make money. I sit in my little cubicle and stay there unless told to do otherwise. I can't say I want time off to go rowing. You've got to take into account the whole system of values."
Dietrich Rose, who rowed for the unbreakable Ratzeburg crew of West Germany before moving to this country to coach Vesper, agrees with this assessment. He is a staunch supporter of club rowing and points out that there is a sharp separation between clubs and colleges in the U.S. "We can't get college boys in time for our boats," he says, "because college lasts so long." Indeed, the U.S. crew got its stroke, Luther Jones, at the beginning of September, only days away from the championships.
For the East German finalists, however, training time is counted not in days or months, but years. Many years. Polished from practically kindergarten to postpuberty by intensive land drills as well as whole German rivers of rowing, they are imbued with the belief that they are performing for Fatherland, Party and Club, in that order. One East German said, "The key words in our program are these: our crewmen are very well disciplined." They are also suspicious of nosy foreigners.
Despite this tight-lipped, stiff-backed attitude, the East German rowing program is not a complete mystery. The average oarsman begins his career before a board which examines him not only for physique but also mental capacity and emotional stability. This happens at age 6 or 7. "From this evaluation," says Craig Swayze, "the doctors are able to make a pretty accurate estimate of how good one of these kids will be by the time he is 21." Those who pass this first test are funneled into special programs for further development. At age 8 coaching begins—in what might be called a state-run little league for oarsmen. Contrary to the U.S. experience, where one coach's style differs from another's, coaching is standardized in East Germany. When the candidate reaches the youth rowing program, ages 13 to 17, he is already an interchangeable cog in the machinery.
Each day during the championships an East German went industriously from boat to boat, notebook in one hand, tape measure in the other, scrutinizing every inch of every shell he could get close to. Afterward the information he gathered was distributed to colleagues on mimeographed sheets. Among the select few to get a glimpse were members of the West German crews. One day one of the sheets blew away and wound up in the hands of the enemy, Dietrich Rose. It didn't help him much, though, because only a cryptographer could have cracked the encoded data it contained—presumably on placement of leathers, length and breadth of sweep blades and other such fascinating minutiae.
Thorough? The East German young eights picked for international competition always consist of four 17-year-olds and four 16-year-olds—half seasoned oarsmen, half freshmen. In training they row through Germany's network of waterways, and in a year they cover between 6,000 and 8,000 miles. (Penn's Ted Nash was called a madman for rowing his boys 2,000 miles last year.)