Watch Duvall Hecht and Jimmy Fifer winning their heat and final race in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Duvall shares some thoughts on his performance in this gold medal victory:
Here is a remarkably well restored copy of a film George [Pocock] took in 1956 of our pair in Melbourne. It shows a number of different styles, and you can compare their effectiveness by the results.
Fifer and I were generally three to five beats lower than the competition. It isn’t how many strokes you take, but how effective they are. What made our stroke effective? Couple of things …
First, we put everything we could into each stroke … lots of effort, sure, but no more than anyone else. The difference is that technically, with oars close to the water and with the roll-up being the final part of the extension for more reach, we got a lot more water to work with.
I can’t emphasize too strongly how important “with oars close to the water and with the roll-up being the final part of the extension for more reach” is to maximizing a crew’s effectiveness. You can see how carefully we approached the catch. The connection with the water was at the speed we were moving, and when the oar took its hold on the water, we began the acceleration. Absolutely no lost motion or wasted effort … no cavitation. Nothing interfered with the run of the boat … no vertical motion whatsoever.
We also carried the work as far as we could into the bow. Something in physics about that, about power applied over distance, in this case distance being the arc of the oar through the water.
We let the boat get all the run it could out of each stroke. By rowing two or three beats higher, the competition cut off the run. But first you have to boost the effective power in the water.
Everyone is equally fatigued at the end of a race, so it isn’t just effort. It’s effort effectively applied.
You can see the Russian pair, our chief competitor, and how short they are in the water. They approach the catch with their oars high off the water and then smack the catch hard with their oars … to my eye, they miss a ton of water, and their only recourse is to row at a higher rate, which compounds their problem.