Immediately following the events of the last chapter, Joe noticed that the other boats were moving. He shouted to Bobby, who shouted, “Row!”, and the Americans began their race. The American rowers began to panic—they felt sure that they were going to lose, since they’d started late. Bobby realized that the team needed to build momentum quickly; he set a hard pace of thirty-eight. In lines one and two, the Germans and Italians were far ahead. Bobby Moch yelled for Hume to dial back the stroke rate a little.
The American rowers eventually noticed that the race had begun—understandably, they panicked when they realized that they were already losing. Bobby Moch demonstrated his talents as a coxswain by adjusting his team’s strategy to the altered circumstances: instead of starting with slow, powerful strokes, he ordered his rowers to row at a rapid pace.
The boats moved down the water, and the winds became stronger. The British decided to try for an early lead, and pushed into second place behind Switzerland. Moch didn’t pay much attention; he was sure that the British would tire themselves out in the first half of the race. Suddenly, Moch saw that Hume was white in the face, even as he kept rowing. Moch shouted to Hume, “Are you okay?” but Don didn’t respond. A quarter of the way through the race, Britain, Germany, and Switzerland were ahead, with American and Italy behind them. But as the water grew choppier, America fell further behind.
Moch resisted the temptation to continue rowing at a high stroke rate; instead, he moved to keep the strike rate low, ensuring that the strokes themselves would be very powerful. However, Don Hume’s bizarre behavior threatened to destroy the American team’s chances of victory: Hume was rowing well, but he seemed to be on the verge of passing out, just as he’d done at the end of the preliminary race.
Knowing that he couldn’t wait any longer, Bobby Moch called for the team to increase its stroke rate, but the heavy winds slowed down the boys’ progress. Bobby looked at Don Hume again and saw that Hume was pale and seemingly about to pass out, even though he was still rowing. Knowing that he couldn’t rely on Hume to set the pace for very much longer, Bobby called out for Joe to set the rhythm. But just as Bobby shouted to Joe, Hume’s head snapped up, and he looked right at Bobby. Bobby yelled for Hume to pick up the pace, and Hume did, bringing the stroke rate to thirty-seven. By the 1500-meter mark, America had rowed into third place.
Moch continued to adjust to the changing circumstances: he increased the stroke rate to compensate for the strong winds (a reminder of what a huge disadvantage it was to be in the lane farthest from the shore). Moch himself didn’t row, but his calm, intelligent leadership during the final proved invaluable for an American victory.
With only five hundred meters left, America was a boatlength behind Germany and Italy. Their boat had finally entered water that was protected from the wind by trees and buildings. As a result, the crew was able to row more powerfully and efficiently. Taking the pace up to forty strokes per minute, the American rowers felt pain unlike anything they’d ever experienced before. But they rowed in perfect unison, crossing the finish line at almost exactly the same time as the Italian and German boats. Nobody could tell who won. Then, a few moments later, the loudspeakers announced that America had won by less than a second.
In the final seconds of the race, America pulled ahead—overcoming not only Don Hume’s sickness, but also its unfair lane assignment, its false start, and its athletes’ outsider reputations in a sport traditionally dominated by genteel old-world athletes. In short, the Washington team’s victory was a victory for “the little guy.” Few people would have guessed that an internationally obscure crew program from the West Coast of the United States would become the best in the world.
Back in Seattle, in Harry’s house, Joe’s half-siblings cheered with delight at the news coming from the radio. Joyce, who was sitting in the house too, embraced Harry, her “father-in-law-to-be,” and wept with joy.
Joe’s triumph in the Berlin Olympics seemed to unite Harry and Joyce in joy (despite the fact that Joyce had previously expressed strong reservations about Harry).