The Amateurs

Halberstam, David. The Amateurs: the Story of Four Young Men and Their Quest for an Olympic Gold Medal. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1985.

Reason read: Halberstam’s birth month is in April. Additionally, the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge has the category of a group working towards a goal. This time it’s a team of amateur rowers trying to qualify for the 1984 Olympics.

An interesting look at a little-known sport. Even though Halberstam’s story centers around the mid-1980s not much has changed with the popularity of rowing. People can name basketball stars, football greats, even Olympic marathon runners and sprinters, but not many can name one let alone all of the members of the last Olympic crew team. I never thought about crew being a faceless sport; a sport that is not very camera friendly. Think about it – to photograph the action accurately you cannot focus on any one particular face. I never thought about it that way. As an aside, I was doing an iFit hike with a trainer named Alex Gregory. He casually mentioned he was a rower on the U.S. Olympic team and retired in 2016. See? I had no idea who he was. Additionally, I recently finished a different iFit walk around Boston and the Charles River. The trainer talked about Harvard, rowing, and competition. Sure enough, a team of eight rowed by. It was cool to see the sport I had been reading about as I worked out.
Halberstam digs deep into this relatively unknown sport to reveal how for athletes like Tiff Wood, the seeds of a competitive spirit were planted in childhood by these rowers’ families: emulating older brothers or spurred on by critical fathers wanting to win, win, win. Encouragement was expressed by failure, (“better luck next time”), and compliments were reserved for the fastest times and first place wins. Reverse psychology at play. The Amateurs is a veritable who’s who of the 1980s rowing world. The dozens of names bogged down the writing and made it difficult to remember who was supposed to be in which boat. I catalogued all the names of the rowers and coaches but I am sure I missed a few:

  • Andy Fisher
  • Andy Sudden
  • Al Shealy
  • Bill Hobbs
  • Bill Purdy
  • Blair Brooks
  • Bob Ernest (C)
  • Bobby Pearce
  • Brad Lewis
  • Bruce Ibbetson
  • Buzz Congram (C)
  • Charley Altekruse
  • Charley Bracken
  • Chris Allsopp
  • Cleve Livingston
  • Dan Goldberg
  • Dave Potter
  • Dick Cashin
  • Ed Chandler
  • Eric Stevens
  • Frank Cunningham (C)
  • Fritz Hobbs
  • Fritz Hageman
  • George Pocock
  • Gordie Gardiner
  • Greg Montessi
  • Gregg Stone
  • Hans Svensson
  • Harry Burk (C)
  • Harry Parker (C)
  • Jim Dietz
  • Joe Biglow
  • Joe Bouscaren
  • Joe Burk (C)
  • Joe Ratzenburg (C)
  • John (Jack) Frackleton
  • John Kelly, Jr.
  • John Von Blon
  • Karl Adam (C)
  • Kris Korzeniowski
  • Larry Klecatsky
  • Mad Dog Loggins
  • Mike Ives
  • Mike Livingston (C)
  • Pat Walker
  • Paul Enquist
  • Paul Most
  • Pertti Kappinen
  • Peter Raymond (C)
  • Peter-Michael Kolbe
  • Ricardo Ibarra
  • Richard Davis (C)
  • Ridgley Johnson
  • Rudiger Reiche
  • Sean Colgan
  • Steve Klesing
  • Stuart McKenzie
  • Sy Cromwell
  • Ted Nash (C)
  • Ted Washburn (C)
  • Tiff Wood
  • Tony Johnson (C)
  • Uwe Mund
  • Uyacheslav Ivanov
  • Vasily Yakusha


As another aside, I was too young to remember Jimmy Carter boycotting the United States’ participation in the 1980 Olympics. What a disappointment to all those athletes!
A third aside,

Author fact: Halberstam has written a good many books. Nancy Pearl has dedicated a whole chapter to his work. I think I am reading twenty for the Book Lust Challenge.

Book trivia: there are a few black and white photographs in the book.

Nancy said: Pearl said she noted her favorite Halberstam books with an asterisk. The Amateurs did not have an asterisk. Oh well. Overall, she said, she has never read a dull book by Halberstam. That’s good.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112).



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