Rowing history of Gothenburg, ”Götheborgs Ro-Club” 1851

Dear OWH-C,
Regarding British coaches in Sweden: Rowing in Sweden has a long tradition back to the Vikings. It was thanks to a British family that ‘modern’ rowing came to Sweden. In 1851, together with some prominent men in Gothenburg, the British consul and businessman, T.W. Duff, founded the country’s first rowing club, Götheborgs Ro-Club. The amount of members was restricted to only 13 men, and some of them were of British decent.    Already from the start the club had two boats. One was an English wherry, bought in Hamburg, Germany – probably the first racing shell in Scandinavia. There is not much known about this club; it is likely that the club was still around at the end of the 1860s, beginning of the 1870s. In the town’s newspaper, Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, on 31 August 1871, the author and poet Viktor Rydberg published a remarkable piece about the death of James Renforth, the professional Tyne-rower who collapsed during a race for the World Championships in Canada. Inspired by the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge, students at Uppsala University formed two rowing clubs in 1877 and 1878.

One of T.W. Duff’s sons, John, was a member of a club for gymnastics, and in 1879 he took the initiative to found a special rowing section within this club, Göteborgs Gymnastikförenings Roddklubb (re-named in 1905 to Göteborgs Roddförening). In the beginning, the club members were only interested in recreational rowing in gigs, and although an English coach, C.E. Stones, was hired in 1893, it came to nothing. John Duff’s brothers, Richard and Thomas, were also busy with rowing, becoming members in the newly founded (in 1880) second rowing club in Gothenburg, Göteborgs Roddklubb, which had members who had been involved in the old Götheborgs Ro-Club.

Göteborgs Roddklubb’s members were all in for competing in slender racing shells. Already in 1884, a British professional coach, James McGurk, was hired to coach the crews.
One of the most influential oarsmen during this time was Viktor Gustaf Balck, later to be known as ‘the father of Swedish sport’. Balck was a lieutenant who founded Stockholms Roddförening in 1880. He and some friends had visited England in 1878 and had built up their rowing club after the English pattern. Balck was also the editor for a sport paper in Stockholm, and in this he wrote favourably about the ‘English way’ of rowing (to compare with the old traditional Swedish rowing in heavy, clumsy gigs). In 1904, the Swedish Rowing Federation was formed.

Two years later a second rowing association was founded for those clubs that wanted to adopt harder amateur rules a la the English ARA. In 1910, the clubs in the out-breaking association were pulled back into the Swedish Rowing Federation.
In 1911, James Farrell of London RC arrived to Sweden. He was invited by the Swedish Olympic Rowing Committee to select and coach some crews for the 1912 Olympic Rowing Regatta in Stockholm. After he had trained them and given them a training programme, he went back to England.

In April the next year, Farrell was back in Sweden for a pre-Olympic training camp. On the first day of the camp, Farrell gathered the rowers around him, and said: “Well, gentlemen, from now on, no boozing, smoking or dancing!” It did not come as a surprise to the rowers that their coach put a ban on liquor and cigarettes,
but dancing? Farrell explained: when you dance you are using muscles that you do not use in rowing, and this will disturb your rowing muscles – so no dancing!

At the Olympic Regatta, the Swedes took a silver medal in the inrigger four. The origin of this boat type was a gig, and it was a wide boat with the oarlocks attached directly on the gunwale, and the rowers sitting in a zigzag way. This boat type would never again appear at an Olympic event, and has to be regarded as an Olympic curiosity. After the Olympic Regatta, Farrell would return to Sweden to coach a club eight that very successfully represented Sweden at the Nordic Championships during 1914-1916. ‘Fairbairnism’ came to Sweden in 1937 with a rowing instruction course in Stockholm.

Head instructor was the Dane, Vagn Jensen, and his assistant trainer was the English professional sculler, Henry A. “Bert” Barry, who in 1927 had become world champion in the single scull by defeating M. Goodsell. In the mid-1930s, for two summers, Bert Barry was the coach for some oarsmen at Akademiska Roddföreningen, a rowing club for students in Stockholm.                                                                                                                                      The eight he coached did not lose a single race and easily became Swedish champions. One of the rowers in the eight has told an amusing story how Bert Barry almost went back to London before the first outing was over. In the evening, the first day Barry arrived, just when the crew was out in the middle of the river, they were surprised by a tremendous ‘aurora borealis’, so called ‘northern lights’ with lightning and blazes of fire reflecting in the dark river water.                                                                                                                           Poor Bert Barry got terribly scared and thought it was Judgement Day, and that the world had come to an end. Only with great difficulty did the oarsmen manage to persuade Barry not to go back to London immediately.

In 1954, Oxford University’s eight and their coach “Jumbo” Edwards were invited to, and won, the 20- kilometre long river race Göta Älvrodden between Kungälv and Gothenburg. The first time Swedes competed at Henley was in 1956 when an eight from the club Three Towns lost in the final of the Grand Challenge Cup. The Swedes were coached by an American, Gus Eriksen; they would later that year be the only European crew in the final of the Olympic eight race (the Swedish coxed four took a silver medal).                                  It took thirty-six years before the next Swedish crew would reach a final at Henley, when, in 1992, two quads took two gold medals. Assistant coach for these crews was Ted Bainbridge of Leander Club. At the time, he worked for Saab Automobile in Sweden. The same year, Ian Nicholls from Australia, who had rowed lightweight at Cambridge, was one of the founders of Lunds Universitets Roddklubb, the rowing club at Lund University, that ever since has been racing against the rowing club at the university in Uppsala. Of course, the Boat Race on the Thames was the model for the student rowers. In 2000, an eight from Cambridge came to race the two Swedish universites.

1) Next spring, I am hoping to have translated and re-written an article into English that I had published in Sweden in 2000 about James “Jack” Farrell and the Olympic Rowing

Regatta 1912.
2) Regarding if Steve Fairbairn ever visited Sweden – no, sorry. As I have written above, the Dane Vagn Jensen brought ‘Fairbairnism’ to Sweden, with the assistance of Bert Barry. It is likely, however, that Fairbairn and/or his protégés went to Norway and Denmark.
3) You do know that Bert’s famous uncle Ernest Barry coached some Danish crews in the beginning of the 1950s? Well, that is all for now.

Cheers www

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