They've got rhythm

The crew I have in mind scored enough victories to fill ten pages. Three times they rowed to top honours in European championships. They came back with silver medals from the Helsinki Olympics - the first Olympics in which the USSR competed - and won the Henley Regatta eights. But it is their most important victories, victories without medals, that I want to tell of in this article.

The Krylya Sovetov (trade union sports society) heavy eights are not confined to eight oarsmen, for some years they had 16, and after the war about 50 pooled their strength and skill in the rowing team. Replacements were found each year by the coaches Alexei Shebuyev and Alexander Shvedov.

Shvedov, Lecturer and Coach

Shvedov, Lecturer and Coach

When Shvedov teamed up with Shebuyev to form a rowing club, it was not only rowing that he wanted to teach the youngsters.

Boys who had known no other childhood but war and its sufferings needed help to find a place in life - and sport was one way to do it.

About 50 oarsmen were available: from them a heavy-eights crew had to be formed. It was done by secret ballot at a Krylya Sovetov Sports Club general meeting. The boys' guiding principle was: "If I know an oarsman is better than I am, I'll never put my name ahead of his." This principle, honourably observed, prevented poorly trained oarsmen getting in the first eight.

Shvedov, after training sessions, got the boys to put forward their ideas, to say how each felt when rowing and what he thought of the crew in general. These talkathons sometimes lasted far into the night. Without discussion, Shvedov could not imagine the crew getting very far. He did not impose his concepts, but encouraged the boys to draw the correct conclusions.

In 1952, when the Olympics were not far ahead, Shvedov was working on a thesis for his degree. The crew had to prepare without him - a real test.

But his training paid dividends in the speed, team-work and harmony that took the Soviet oarsmen to victory. With the medals in then-hands the oarsmen went to the telegraph office and wired: "Everything fine with us. What about your thesis?" Next day the reply came: "Congratulations on your success. Presented thesis O.K."

One Sunday afternoon in summer 1960, the heavy eight got into their racing shell: Yevgeni Brago, Yevgeni Samsonov, Vladimir Rodimushkin, Slava Amiragov,Igor Borisov, Leonid Gissen, Alexei Komarov and Vladimir Kryukov, with Alexander Shvedov as cox.

The shell slipped so easily through the water that it seemed they had been rowing together for the past ten years. These oarsmen, remaining together for victory after victory, earned the nicknames of the "Golden Eight" and the "Eight Professors".

Kryukov - Perfectionist

Kryukov - Perfectionist

At home, Vladimir Kryukov keeps the oar he used through the years. It's not an ordinary oar; it's more like a work of art. Kryukov spent many an hour polishing it, pinpointing the gravity centre and changing the scoop angle.

Kryukov made this oar as a hobby task, and later built a model motor-boat - a model that would not have disgraced an exhibition. "Golden fingers" they say of him. And Shvedov, working in the same laboratory, adds: "And a head of gold, too."

Kryukov is a perfectionist at heart, and demands the best from himself. As an experimental engineer, he wrote a brilliant treatise on heat transmission in rocket and other aero engines. He vacillated for several years about presenting a thesis on the subject, and only after many corrections and amendments did he take this final step to his degree.

Oarsmen stroking a crew refer to Kryukov as the best stroke ever known, just as fans refer to Yashin as the best goalkeeper and Botvinnik as the best chess player.

Kryukov became the ideal stroke after he had changed places in the racing shell, to get a better feel of. the craft. The crew noted that whenever Kryukov became stroke, rowing became easier.

So they voted at a locker-room meeting, and Kryukov, though still young, became No. 8.

The capacities of No. 8, or stroke, determine the race. The stroke man sets the pace and rhythm. Kryukov fitted the role to a T: he showed great self-control and was cool in the toughest situations. "Without Kryukov", some of the experts said, "You are not a team. Put Kryukov as stroke of any crew, and soon it will be beating all comers." But Shvedov, while recognizing Kryukov as a master oarsman, knew that the experts were wrong. And Kryukov laughed and said: "Well, I'm not going to desert my boys just to prove the experts are wrong."

Brago - The Anarchist

Brago - The Anarchist

It's strange, in a group where all have common interests and goals, to call a man "The Anarchist". Brago got the idea one day that he wasn't as well trained as the rest of the eight and was a burden to them. He thought he was beginning to put on weight, and he told Shvedov about his misgivings. Shvedov tried to talk him out of it the first time; next he called on the boys to help, and the third time he smiled resignedly. He knew he couldn't convince Brago, and he knew what Brago would do. Brago began to bolt his meals, to be first to leave the table and start exercising to keep his weight down. He went on long crosscountry runs and did wrist-strengthening exercises. While other crewmen rested, Brago worked himself into a lather of sweat. That was when they dubbed him "The Anarchist". Shvedov let him off lightly at regular training, so as not to overtax him. Brago soon began to feel more at ease. "I guess I'm in condition now", he said. "I've cut down my weight and I won't be a burden to anyone." He began to eat as much as the rest of the crew, and stopped being the odd one out. But the nickname of "The Anarchist" stuck.

While they were rowing, the crewmen continued studies at colleges and universities. Brago's thesis was ready just as the others were beginning to embark on engineering, medical and scientific careers. "He's an anarchist, all right", they said. "Even here he broke away from us." Brago had studied hard and won his degree in technical sciences the year they all left big-time competition.

Professors usually make no allowances for titles like Merited Master of Sport. However, when Brago presented his thesis at the Electric Power Institute, one outstanding professor pointed out to the Scientific Council: "I would like to add, for those who do not know, that Yevgeni Brago holds three European championship titles and is a Merited Master of Sport."

The Scientific Council gave him a big hand, but this did not influence their judgment of his paper. It had already been classified as "excellent". Brago had been studying electric discharge and the nature of electric sparks. He designed an electronic optical chronograph to study highspeed processes, and suggested a means of photographing these processes which rivalled the method devised by Academician Kurchatov.

Amiragov - the Dreamer

Amiragov - the Dreamer

Slava Amiragov never had a moment to spare. If he had finished institute lessons he would begin studying English right on the mooring raft or during short training breaks. When he had finished his English lesson, he might think up some device to help the crew in their training. In between first and second courses at the training camp cafeteria he would busy himself with mathematical problems. He had expert understanding of aviation instruments, shone as a mathematician and was a first-rate sportsman.

On his first trip abroad, Amiragov tried out his English on some British sportsmen. They smiled tolerantly and nodded their heads unable to understand! a word he said. Amiragov, unable to understand the Englishmen, also smiled and nodded. On the second trip to England, Amiragov was the crew's personal interpreter.

He designed an instrument to determine the angle of an oar's curve - an angle which should be from two to three degrees. Amiragov's instrument detected even the slightest deviations. This precise measuring was not necessary, but the boys liked the instrument because it was unique: they would spend hoursdeciding just the right angle.

In the end everyone got fed up with it - everyone except Amiragov. At Henley Regatta he decided to set the angle for all the oars himself. A crowd of about a hundred gathered round him. At first, his work seemed interesting enough, but as time went by watchers realized this could go on for ever. In a few hours the crowd was laughing. At last Slava burst out laughing, and dropped the instrument into the water.

Others of his inventions fared better. They included gadgets and devices he invented as an aviation engineer.

Gissen - the Iron Man

Gissen - the Iron Man

Leonid Gissen had poor lungs from childhood, so he took up rowing on the advice of parents and doctor. Though he excelled in rowing, he was in and out of hospital. Many treatments, some painful, were tried. The doctors did not order him to drop rowing; they feared that without it he might sicken and die. Sometimes he coughed through the night, and in the morning said that something had got stuck in his throat.

Eventually doctors decided on an operation, and discovered that a tiny seed, evidently inhaled in childhood, had worked its way into his lungs. His troubles had not come singly: over the same period as his lung trouble he also suffered from acute radiculitis, and quite often was only able to row after a novocaine injection. Sportsmen know what this means: the pain may return at any moment. But his crew-mates also knew that Leonid would last out till the end of the race, no matter what happened.

While visiting Paris he suffered an agonizing attack of radiculitis. But the urge to see the beautiful city proved stronger than the pain, and with the rest of the crew he covered many miles in its streets and museums.

Perhaps it was natural that Leonid Gissen should graduate as a doctor. He is a psychiatrist, and recently received the degree of Master of Medical Sciences.

He now seeks to apply psychiatry in sport, particularly in the training of high-calibre athletes. Largely due to his efforts, the Institute of Psychiatry under the Academy of Medical Sciences is organizing a special laboratory for the purpose.

The man once racked in pain by weak lungs and radiculitis proved a man of iron.

Left to right: V. Rodimushkin, S. Amiragov, Y. Samsonov, Y. Brago.
Getting the boat ready
for a race is an art in itself.
Left to right: V. Rodimushkin, S. Amiragov,
Y. Samsonov, Y. Brago.
Vladimir Kryukov, soviet rowing team, 1954
Rowing was never this hard!
Vladimir Kryukov with the very
substantial trophy won at Henley in 1954.
Alexander Shebuyev, one of the coaches of soviet rowing team.
Alexander Shebuyev,
one of the coaches.
Yevgeni Brago, Vladimir Rodimushkin, Alexei Komarov, Igor Borisov, Slava Amiragov, Leonid Gissen in 1952
The Krylya Sovetov eight,
Finland, 1952.
Left to right: Yevgeni Brago, Vladimir Rodimushkin,
Alexei Komarov, Igor Borisov,
Slava Amiragov, Leonid Gissen.
Yevgeni Samsonov, Vladimir Kryukov in 1952
The Krylya Sovetov eight, Finland, 1952.
Left to right: Yevgeni Samsonov, Vladimir Kryukov.

Article's Tags: interview russia sport

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