1956 Men's Coxless Four

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The 1956 Men’s Coxless Four
Donald Arnold (Stroke seat)
Walter D’Hondt (three seat)
Lorne Loomer (two seat)
Archibald MacKinnon (bow)

The 1956 Men’s Coxless Four won Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in rowing. Their achievement is even more remarkable because of their underdog status going into the Games.

The men, all UBC students, did not make the Olympic eight and were training as spares. They were thrown together before the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta to form a four man crew. The winner of the four event at Henley would represent Canada at the Olympics in Melbourne.

The men trained under the legendary coach Frank Read, known as a firm taskmaster and disciplinarian. They lived in Spartan conditions near Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, slept on bunk beds left over from the UBC’s wartime officers training program and worked as day labourers between rowing practices. Coach Read promised his athletes that it would be “a summer you’ll hate to remember.”

Pitted against their favoured rivals from Brockville Rowing Club at Henley, the UBC four set a punishing pace, setting an unofficial world record and crushing their competition by over 10 lengths. It was a glimpse of their speed to come.

At the Olympic Regatta the crew steadily improved, defeating the Germans in the heats by 11 seconds and the French in the semifinal by 20 seconds. In the final the rookie crew took a bad first stroke yet through guts and determination rowed from behind to pass four crews on their way to victory. They secured Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in rowing in heroic fashion; by an astonishing 5 length lead over the American silver medalists.

The men continued their winning ways at the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games as members of the gold medal winning 8+. Two years later, Arnold, D’Hondt and McKinnon secured a silver medal in the 8+ at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Lorne Loomer further contributed to Canadian rowing by founding the stellar University of Victoria Rowing Team, which has produced many Olympic and World Champions, some of whom are in this room today. Sadly, Loomer passed away in January 2017 and we honour his legacy in spirit today.

The Men’s 1956 Four has been inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, The Olympic Hall of Fame, the British Columbia Hall of Fame and the UBC Sports Hall of Fame.

Their fiery determination inspired generations of Canadian Olympic rowers that followed in their lead.