A split second after the call to "ready all?" the cream of the eight-oared shells will hit the catch, the 1-mile course at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat. Less than six minutes later, the U.S., Australian, Russian, Canadian, Czechoslovakian or French team should collapse with the happiest of grins.
The favorite, Yale University, is a real bulldog gang this year. In the Olympic tryouts, though underdogs to Cornell, the Elis took Cornell's measure by three-quarters of a boat length. Since then they have had daily sessions, and Coach Jim Rathschmidt is happy "every man is in fine condition, not an injury in the lot."
But Yale has the tough job of upholding the U.S.'s monopoly, set up by the Navy eight back in 1920. In addition, Yale must withhold the challenges of vastly improved European crews and a good, big, heavy Australian eight.
The Russians have been experimenting with three different boats, but due to "over-confidence" took an upset from Czechoslovakia at September's European Championships at Bled, Yugoslavia. They will be eager to redeem themselves in Australia, but the international experts pick the powerful Australian crew to give Yale a scare.
The Aussie crew is almost as big and heavy as Yale's, which averages 6 feet 3 inches and 187 pounds. This will be a close one, with probably no more than four seconds separating the first three shells.
Two hours before the eights do battle, the single scullers will come down the Lake Wendouree straightaway. John B. Kelly Jr. of the U.S. will be trying for that elusive gold medal, and he is up against even tougher opposition than Yale. Jack plans to "go off at 36 to 38, maintain 32 in the body and kick it in at 36 or higher." But he knows that too much leveling off could be fatal: "There's no such thing as taking an extra breath with those Iron Curtain boys; they're too fit." And so they are.
Russia's sensational young Vyacheslav Ivanov won the European title at Bled. Although only 19 and rather small, he is solid and fast. Poland's Teodor Kocerka took the Diamond Sculls at Henley in June but was thoroughly whipped by Ivanov at Bled. Overtrained, he tired badly but is back in condition now.
Australia's strapping Stuart Mackenzie upset Mervyn Wood, the 1948 London gold medalist, at their tryouts. While still a little green, this is a good big man. New Zealand pins its hope on 6-foot-1 J. R. Hill.
The Russians look impressive in the remaining rowing events but should meet strong opposition from Germany in the coxswain pair. The U.S.'s Duvall Hecht and James Fifer have a chance to overtake them in the pairs without coxswain. From there on in, with the possible exception of Dan Ayrault, Conn Findlay and Coxswain Kurt Seiffert in the coxswain pairs, the U.S. delegation has but an outside chance.