Can Frank Read’s oarsmen on trace the world -again?

Driving his crews like galley slaves, UBC’s rowing coach has twice turned gangs of green kids into international champions, almost overnight. This summer, at Rome, lie may do the impossible for the third time

RAY GARDNER July 2 1960

Can Frank Read’s oarsmen on trace the world -again?

Driving his crews like galley slaves, UBC’s rowing coach has twice turned gangs of green kids into international champions, almost overnight. This summer, at Rome, lie may do the impossible for the third time

RAY GARDNER July 2 1960

Can Frank Read’s oarsmen on trace the world -again?

Driving his crews like galley slaves, UBC’s rowing coach has twice turned gangs of green kids into international champions, almost overnight. This summer, at Rome, lie may do the impossible for the third time


DURING THE PAST ton years, while most other Canadian athletes have hardly made the grade as even second-rate contenders in international competition. rowing crews from the University of British Columbia have won a secure place among the world's best oarsmen.

The young rowers from UBC have swept to victories in the Olympic and British Empire Games and once came close to winning their sport’s supreme prize, the Grand Challenge Cup of England's Royal Regatta at Henley-on-Thames.

Their record is all the more remarkable because part of it has been achieved in competition against United States crews from colleges that spend lavish sums to provide the finest coaches and

equipment and boathouses where the oarsmen may live while in training.

In contrast, rowing, until recently, had always been a neglected sport at UBC. Six years ago the university spent only a few' hundred dollars on rowing and even now spends only six thousand, less than a tenth of what is spent by some U. S. colleges.

UBC doesn't even have its own boathouse. The crews must travel from the campus right across Vancouver to use the facilities of the Vancouver Rowing C lub. When they were training for the 1956 Olympics. UBC oarsmen lived for a time in a condemned house and worked as laborers to pay the rent.

The university has no paid rowing coach but depends upon the voluntary efforts of Frank Read, a prosperous, forty-nine-year-oid Vancouver hotel owner.

In the ten years since he took on the job. Read has proven that money couldn't buy a better coach. It took him four years to learn how to coach and to produce his first champions, an eight-oared crew that won a gold medal at the 1954 British Empire Games. Since then, seven other UBC crews have finished either first or second in top-flight international competition.

Bob Osborne, the University of British Columbia's physical - education director, describes the record compiled by Read's rowers as "almost un-

rivaled in the annals of amateur sport in Canada."

"It has been accomplished." he says, "by hard work and the sheer force of Frank's personality.” Read's finest achievement came when he took two crew's to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne and brought back a gold and a silver medal. Canada won only two gold medals during the entire games.

The UBC four-without-coxswain swept to three victories in three races. In every race its margin of victory was so great none of the rival crews appears in any picture taken near the finish line. In the final they beat the United States by five lengths. (In this event one of the four rowers, in place of a cox. steers the boat.)

Read's eight-oared CONTINUED ON I*AGE 38

Can Frank Read's oarsmen outrace the world - again? continued from page 19

On the training barge, Read can “get his hands on a man and break his neck, if necessary”

crew lost to the United States in its final race by only half a length.

The victory of the coxless four caused a sensation. Three of the crew were raw beginners who had never rowed a shell until nine months before the Olympics.

The fourth man had only three month's more experience, none of it gained in first-class competition.

When Read told a Trench newspaperman at Melbourne that the four had been trained in only a few months, the French-

man said, bluntly, “C'est impossible.” "Of course it was impossible,” says Read. "I think it was the most phenomenal effort ever made in international athletic competition. At least 1 don't know of any parallel."

The three crews Read is now training to shoot for a place on the Canadian team to go to Rome are an eight, a fourwith-cox, and a coxless four.

The two four-oared crews will have to take part in the Canadian Olympic trials to be held early in July at Port Dalhousie. Ont. No other crew has challenged the UBC eight's right to represent Canada. But before it is given a berth on the Canadian team it must row a time trial in Vancouver, and a panel of judges from the Canadian Association of Amateur Oarsmen must decide if it is of Olympic calibre.

Meanwhile, in his customary fashion. Read is tongue-lashing his crews and driving them relentlessly.

Once, in explaining his methods, he wrote: "Our early training is done in sixteen-man barges with a catwalk down the centre. Here the coach can get his hands on a man and break his neck, it necessary!" He never has broken a man's neck but at times his exhausted oarsmen have had to be lifted from their shell at the end of a training session.

David Helliwell, a young Vancouver accountant who rowed in Read's Olympic eight, says. "He is a strict disciplinarian. He allows no talking, no gumchewing in his boat. He'll tolerate no dramatics at the end of a race, no collapsing over the oars. Everyone must sit up straight, as though the race were only beginning."

“I won’t tolerate any babies”

Helliwell recounts an incident which took place during a thirty-five-mile training row when Read was readying his eight for Melbourne.

"1 guess we'd done about twenty-five miles, driving hard all die way, ' says Helliwell. "when we hit rough water. Somehow, one of the boys ripped off a fingernail. I he blood spouted from his finger and mixed with the water in the bottom of the boat. It seemed we were awash with blood.

“The boy stopped rowing and broke down, whimpering. He was exhausted and in pain. Frank came alongside our shell in the coaching boat. When he saw what had happened, he looked that boy straight in the eye and said. 'I won t tolerate any babies in my crews. If you want to get out of that boat, you can. But remember this: you II never get

back in.’

"The boy hesitated for a moment and Frank shouted. Start it up. cox!' We began to row. The injured boy missed perhaps three strokes, then picked up the beat and rowed the last ten miles as hard as the rest of us.

Read even secerns to look the part of the successful coach. He is tall and powerfully built, and his dark, silverflcckcd hair is crew-cut. His features arc handsome and strong. Every aspect of his physique and personality seems to exude strength.

This impression is heightened by the way he speaks -— with precision, confidence. and determination —as well as by his glance, which is intense and penetrating. Initially, he seems detached and cold. But. in time, he emerges as a person of considerable warmth and understanding. A slow and almost boyish smile helps create this transformation.

The boys who have rowed under him, ard even older men who have worked him. idolize Read. They all picture him as the hard-bitten coach with a heart of gold. On the water, they say, he is strict and tough but never unfair or tyrannical. Away from the water, they insist, he is a kind and sympathetic friend.

During the Thirties. Read was an outstanding oarsman with the Vancouver Rowing Club and was also a competent Canadian football player.

Read's old club, the VRC. has for years provided a coach, equipment, and boathouse for training UBC oarsmen, and for this reason the university crews are formally entered in competition as Vancouver Rowing Club-University of British Columbia. It was the VRC that asked Read, in 1950. to coach at UBC.

Four years later a UBC eight swept to a gold-medal victory in the 1954 British tmpire Games, defeating the highly favored Thames Rowing Club of England by two and a half lengths on the Vedder Canal, near Chilliwack. B.C.

Only one experienced man rowed in Read's boat. Two had taken up the sport only four months before the games. But all were in magnificent condition.

"Never," said Arthur Sul ley, coach of the English crew, "have 1 seen such superbly conditioned young animals.”

Read is a fanatic on physical condition. His rowers do rigorous calisthenics every day for months before they ever touch an oar.

The next summer Read took his eight boys to the Royal Regatta at Henley-onThames. There, in their first race, they recorded another remarkable triumph, a one-and-a-half-length victory over the top-rated Soviet eight.

"Splendid rowing by Canadian crew,” was the way The Times of London described the UBC victory. "Whatever may happen in the final." said The Times, "the Vancouver eight can rest assured that their fame is indelibly written into Henley history."

In the final for the Grand Challenge ( tip, rowing's supreme prize, UBC lost to the University of Pennsylvania, but by only half a length.

In preparation for their next international foray, the 1956 Olympics, Read subjected his rowers to a training program as arduous as any ever imposed on a group of Canadian athletes.

At its height, the sixteen-man squad moved into a condemned house, furnished it with borrowed bunks, and hired two women to cook their meals at the VRC clubhouse.

Every weekday they rowed from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., then ate breakfast and went to work, digging ditches, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In the evening, they rowed again for an hour and a half. By 9:00 p.m. they were asleep. On weekends Read drove them on thirty-five-mile rows. In all, they rowed over three thousand miles.

"We'd get so tired at work," David Hclliwell recalls, "that we'd bolt our lunch and catch a few minutes' sleep, usually on someone's lawn."

There was no let-up in this routine from the first of May until the university's fall term began. Even then they kept rowing every day until November, when they left for Melbourne.

On their way to Melbourne, their plane touched down at Honolulu at five one morning and was to leave six hours later.

"At nine." says Hclliwell. "Frank had us out on the hotel patio doing our calisthenics in the broiling sun while he sat in the shade drinking gin and tonic and shouting his orders.

"A lot of other Canadian athletes

stood around and stared in amazement. We were filled with a martyr's pride. We did our exercises better than ever, as much as to tell the world. ‘Look at us! We're deadly serious about the Olympics. We're determined to win.' "

All this effort paid off in two Olympic medals, one gold and one silver.

After the Olympics. Read retired from rowing to attend to his hotel business and was succeeded by John Warren, one of the boys he'd taught to row. Warren took three crews to the 1958 Empire Games in Wales and won a gold medal

and two silver medals. Last year. David Hclliwell coached a UBC eight that placed second in the Pan - American Games at Chicago.

Now Read has come back for a second crack at the Olympics. But. he insists. it is not for Olympic medals alone that he drives his boys to such extremes.

His philosophy is that through rowing a boy may. as he expresses it. "discover himself."

"All of us." he explains, "have more courage and more capacity for understanding and developing than we ever

call upon. By demanding the supreme effort from these boys, I believe they will discover these latent forces and thus be able to drive themselves to the supreme effort in everything they undertake in life."

"When they become discouraged,” he says, “they must seek yet another source of encouragement. Call it God. if you want. There is such a source, and I urge the boys to search for it within tiicjnselves."

Read claims he knows nothing about rowing “that thousands of others don't

know.” His secret lies in being able to convey to others what he does know. He has made a conscious study to find the exact words and phrases to use when he shouts instructions at his oarsmen.

One day last spring I observed Read in action as he drove his galley slaves on a two-hour training row and then I jotted these comments in my notebook: “Economy of language, combined with constant repetition. Words cut the air as cleanly, with same precision, as oars slice into water. Implores, commands, even nags. Favorite expletive: "What the bloody hell

“Now. let's get the timing," he'd shout. “Everybody together. In and out together. Now feel it. Sense it. In and out together.” The words were spoken with a cadence that implied the rhythm he wanted his crew to achieve. “Let’s forget about the power. Let’s get it smooth. Everybody working together so it’s smooth. Smooth.”

Now and then he’d concentrate on one oarsman: “Come on, four! You can’t do it by yourself. Do it with the rest of them.” Or, "Three! You’re rowing in a world of your own. Think about it. The whole thing has to be flowing smoothly.”

Later, in the boathouse, one of the boys he’d criticized repeatedly during the row approached Read and asked, hopefully, “Did I look any better that last run in?”

“Nope!” was his curt reply.

He let that sink in, then he asked the boy, “Do you ever spend any time thinking about this? Or do you think it’s all bull work? You know, it takes brains to row.”

Then, turning to me, Read said, "I can't let them waste a second. Every second they're in that boat they must improve, or it’s a wasted row.” jç