Vyacheslav Ivanov sculls his way to a historic hat-trick

Russian rower Vyacheslav Ivanov had already done so much in his career. He had only taken up the sport at the age of 15, in 1953, but two years later he won the USSR Championships and a year after that he was on his way to the Olympic Games in Melbourne. At the age of just 18, he won gold, an achievement he repeated four years later in Rome.

Picture by 1964 IOC

Now he was confronted by a challenge from history as much as his rivals on the lake. Nobody had ever won the single sculls event three times in a row. In fact, at that time, only three men had ever won a hat-trick of rowing gold medals across all the events. For a single sculler to win a trio of victories seemed hard to believe.

His greatest rival from the 1960 Games was here again. East Germany’s Achim Hill had taken silver in Melbourne and started this race with the determination to win gold this time around. Ivanov was famous for his closing surge, but it looked as if he may have given himself too much to do this time around. With just 500m left, Hill led Ivanov by around 10 seconds. But history suggested that Ivanov could not be written off.

In both 1956 and 1960, the Russian had been well adrift, too, and in both cases he had accelerated harder than anyone else in the field. Hill must have known what was coming – but was powerless to resist.


Once more, Ivanov started his finishing burst with half a kilometre left to go but, if anything, this finale was even more stunning than its predecessors, combining stunning power and stamina. He closed in on Hill and, inexorably, moved past him before crossing the line nearly four seconds in the lead. The effort summoned by Ivanov was so intense that he is said to have briefly blacked out within the last 100m of the race. He later wrote that, when he came to, he was still in the lead with around 50m still to go, but wasn’t sure whether he was hallucinating. Fortunately, he had the sense to keep rowing and finish the race to win gold, and make history.