A spectacular day for German athletics was coming to a close. Only one race remained in the 1936 Olympic rowing regatta and the Germans had captured six medals (five golds and one silver) in six races. Over 75,000 spectators overflowed the grandstand and lined the racecourse. German Chancellor Adolf Hitler sat among Nazi dignitaries at the finish line awaiting the last race of the day – the men’s eight-oared crew final.
Two thousand meters downriver, at the starting line, American coxswain Bob Moch looked anxiously at the face of Don Hume. Hume, the stroke of the University of Washington eight representing the United States, was tasked with setting the pace for the seven oarsmen rowing behind him. Yet something was very wrong. Hume’s eyes remained closed for most of the warm-up, and his breathing seemed labored. Moch knew that Hume had been ill since the team arrived in Europe – he had lost over ten pounds – but Moch had never seen his close friend look so listless at the starting line. As the rest of the crew stirred nervously in their seats, gripping their oars and banishing thoughts of the tremendous physical punishment facing them, Moch glanced at Hume and then across the water at the other eights.
Jim McMillin, sitting in the five-seat, later remembered his thoughts at the starting line. “I had felt that if we rowed the best we knew how, we could get there.” But “everything went wrong from that point on.”
Six Minutes in Berlin tells the amazing story of how eight oarsmen, one coxswain, and one coach stunned Adolf Hitler, 75,000 German spectators, and an American radio audience at the first modern Olympiad. The story of the 1936 Berlin Olympics remains centered on the achievements of Jesse Owens, the filmmaking of Leni Reifenstahl, and the propaganda brilliance of the Germans. Lost in the historical record is the event that occurred on August 14, 1936, that sportswriter Grantland Rice called the “high spot” of the Berlin Games, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer named Seattle’s most important sporting event in the twentieth-century.
Using interviews with the oarsmen, oral histories, newspaper accounts, and the actual broadcast of the event, Michael J. Socolow weaves together the improbable story of how the crew overcame illness to its oarsmen, a massive, hostile crowd, and adverse weather conditions to triumph in the last ten strokes. Less than one second would ultimately separate American gold, Italian silver, and German bronze.