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Aug. 13, 1932: In the Olympic men's eight rowing finals, California's Golden Bears, foreground, cross the finish line just ahead of Italy's University of Pisa, far lane. Canada, third, and Great Britain, fourth, made it a blanket finish, trailing less than a boat length behind the winner.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

The Cal Berkeley men's eights rowing crew at the Oakland Estuary before the 1932 Olympics. From left: Edwin Salisbury, James Blair, Duncan Gregg, David Dunlap, Burton Jastram, Charles Chandler, Howard Tower, Winslow Hall and seated in the front is Norris Graham, the coxswain.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Wide World Photos

Crew member Edwin Salisbury, left, talks with head coach Carroll M. "Ky" Ebright.


The 1932 Cal Berkeley team during practice session.


March 1982: Members of the 1932 Olympic Cal Berkerley crew, minus Charles Chandler and coxswain Norris Graham, pose for an alumni picture. This photo was published in the July 31, 1984, Los Angeles Times.

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The crew of ’32

Aug. 13, 1932: The California Bears crew wins the Olympic gold medal for men’s eights rowing at the Long Beach Marine Stadium, beating by inches the Italian crew from the University of Pisa. Canada won the bronze and Great Britain was fourth.

Fifty-two years later, after attending a reunion of the Cal Bears crew, Times staff writer Bill Christine reported in a July 31, 1984 article:

OAKLAND – They stand ramrod straight, all them 6 feet or more. They all weigh within 10 pounds of what they weighed 52 years ago, and one of them actually weighs 10 pounds less.

They all received degrees from the University of California and have been successful in the business and professional world.

Now, all in their early 70s, they are the seven surviving crew members of the U.S. eight that beat Italy by inches for the gold medal in the 1932 Olympic Games, in what broadcaster Ted Husing said was the most thrilling sports event he ever covered.

Four of them – Edwin Salisbury, Duncan Gregg, David Dunlap and Burton Jastram – live in the San Francisco area. James (Bud) Blair and Winslow live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Harold Tower, an optometrist, lives near San Diego. Norris Graham, the coxswain for the eight, died in 1979, and Charles Chandler, another member of the team, died in 1982, about three months after crew day at Berkeley, where they got into a shell and rowed for a souvenir photograph….

During an era when the U.S. eight consisted of the best collegiate crew in the country (instead of the current system, which is a blend of oarsmen from several schools), the Americans monopolized the event. Starting in 1920, the United States won eight straight golds in the event, including the first place finishes by California crews in 1928, 1932 and 1948.

“To give you an idea of how important rowing was at Berkeley when we were there,” Blair said, “sixty athletes would try for the football team, but there’d be 100 going out for crew.”…

In the final, the United States was in the No. 1 lane, with Canada, Britain and Italy alongside.

The Italians, wrote Damon Runyon, who covered the race, were in “the best lane because they are in the lee of a bank of the course, protected from a cross-wind that keeps the flags flattened out against the skyline.”…

Italy, using a short, high stroke, took an early lead. Cal and Canada were bothered by the wind at the start, rowing three to four strokes less than the Italians.

At 400 meters, however, the Americans took the lead by a quarter of a length. At 1,200 meters, Italy and the Americans were even and seemed to be rowing in unison until they hit the 1,500 meter mark.

With 100 meters to go, Italy took a lead of about 3 feet.

“This last few hundred yards were about as … spellbinding as any race could possibly be,” wrote Allison Danzig in the New York Times. “Neck and neck the American and Italian eights, both hard-catching, short stroking crews, came down the lagoon in an absolute dead heat, both of them hitting a terrific beat of 40 or over, with Canada and Great Britain churning the water furiously in a granitic effort to overtake them.”

Danzig called it a miracle as the American shell edged ahead of the Italians at the finish line. The margin was inches, the time 6:37.3…

“Maybe Graham [the coxswain[ knew who won, but nobody else did,” said Gregg. “We didn’t know until the band struck up, ‘California, Here I Come.’ Funny, isn’t it that there’s now talk about making that the state song.”…

After the official announcement, the men from Berkeley threw Graham into the water, a rowing tradition.

The above photo gallery includes images from 1932 and a photo from the 1982 reunion mentioned in Christine’s story.

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