UBC rowing program marks 100 years of success

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This Is BC: UBC rowing club marks one hundred years
The rowing club has been a storied program in Canadian University sports and a training ground for dozens of Olympians through the years. Jay Durant checks in on the secret to their success on the This Is BC – Oct 27, 2022

The UBC rowing team is getting ready to take a shot at some more national titles and continue a century of excellence that has made it one of the most successful sports programs in Canadian university history.

“It’s really inspiring as an athlete to see what people before you have done,” team captain Sally Jones told Global’s This is BC.

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Launched in 1922, UBC’s program has produced rowers who have gone on to win 40 Olympic medals. Ned Pratt was the first in 1932.

The Second World War halted competition, but was followed by a dominating period that spanned a decade.

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Out of nowhere, coach Frank Read built a powerhouse team that would shock the world with upset wins at the most prestigious regattas.

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“Frank had a reputation of being tough, and hard and all the rest of it,” said Bill McKerlich, who competed in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics.

“But the big thing about Frank was that his vision was very high.”

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At the 1956 Melbourne Olympics UBC rowers won gold and silver medals on the same day.

“Suddenly in ‘56 you see all these letters coming in from Europe, Australia and around North America asking, ‘What’s your secret? How did you do this?’” BC Sports Hall of Fame Curator Jason Beck said.

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The success continued into 1960s and in 1976 women’s rowing made its varsity debut inspiring a new generation of athletes, including the late Kathleen Heddle who won three Olympic gold medals.

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The boats at the UBC facility are named after the legends that helped build the program. Thunderbirds rowing remains one of the most dominant teams in the country, as it continues to build its reputation on the global stage.

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“We’re really trying to expand our footprint internationally and see how we can compare to some of the top schools in the ‘States, and Europe as well,” said sixth-year team Member Brendan Wall.

“We’ve got great support from our alumni group, great support from the University,” men’s head coach Mike Pearce said.

“So we’re just running with it and see how far we can go.”

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