In just a couple of days, Long Beach’s dreams of sporting events have skyrocketed: The Angels may wind up making their home in town and our Marine Stadium may reprise its 1932 role as the venue for Olympic rowing in 2028.
The savvy gambler won’t touch either one at this point; there’s a lot to discuss; a million tweets and Facebook posts to consider before either dream can come true.
The idea of rowing returning to Marine Stadium may be the most provocative, with a lot fewer drawbacks and complications than slapping a stadium into Downtown Long Beach.
Long Beach’s elephant lot was meant to host elephants, while Marine Stadium was born to host rowing events. It was designed expressly for the rowing regattas in the Xth Olympiad in Los Angeles, and it ended up being the site of one of the most exciting gold-medal wins in the history of the Games.
An international crowd of 50,000 spectators was in town, many people arriving by car, navigating the perilous Traffic Circle, which was also built for the Olympics to accommodate traffic pouring into town from Los Angeles for the Long Beach event.
The crowd in the rowing stadium matched the estimated 50,000 people attending the Iowa Picnic at nearby Recreation Park on Saturday, Aug. 13, 1932. They were on the waterfront of the newly dredged stadium to watch the main event, the rowing eights. The U.S. had a three-Olympics winning streak going back to 1920 coming into the race, but this time it was going up against Italy, which had ripped up the course in the preliminary races, and Great Britain, which had dominated the sport before the U.S. launched its streak, was always a threat.
Rowing for the United States was the team from the University of California.
The spectators were all in their seats in the waterside bleachers, with a forest of oil derricks creaking in the background when the race began at 4:20 p.m.
With the first stroke it appeared that the Cal eight’s victory was in jeopardy. And nobody could have told the rest of the story better than Press-Telegram sports writer Art Cohn, whose report appeared in the following morning’s newspaper. Eighty-seven years later, it can still have readers on the edge of their seats.
As the race passed the halfway point, Cohn wrote, “for the first time in 20 years of Olympic rowing, America was on the brink of defeat in the eight-oar classic.
“The blue-jerseyed Fascists had set a withering pace to lead three-quarters of the way. Time after time they had fought off the California challenge. Only five strokes more and America’s eight-oar supremacy would have been checked for the first time since 1912.”
Cal’s pace was a relatively sluggish 36 strokes per minute, while Italy was doing 40, and with the finish line fast approaching, Cal’s coxswain, Norris Graham, turned into a slavedriver, asking the impossible from his crew. Take it away, Art!
“Forty! Forty-two! Forty-three!, Forty-four! Faster and faster the blue oars of California cleaved the water, now up to an unprecedented 44 per minute. Fifty thousand pairs of eyes looked on in amazement. They were watching one of the greatest moments in international sports history.”
The Cal squad was creeping up inch-by-inch as the finish line loomed.
“Twenty yards from the finish they were locked bow and bow,” wrote Cohn as smoke spewed from his typewriter. “Somewhere Italy had found the answer to the Bears’ challenge. Again they jammed their needle-nosed prow ahead by inches.”
The despairing crowd suddenly came alive as the U.S. craft “leaped as if alive, while a throng gone mad shrieked itself into a state of exhaustion,” as we imagine Cohn collapsing in his chair with a cigarette hanging from his lips..
This all happened in less-technological times, as witness our man using a typewriter rather than a laptop. There was no electronic timing of instant replay in 1932. The crowd was uneasy as seconds passed before the announcement was made that the U.S. team had crossed the finish line one-fifth of a second ahead of Italy for the gold medal.
And the crowd went crazy…
Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.
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