Legendary UW Rower Jim McMillin Dies at Age 91
Aug. 31, 2005
SEATTLE - Legendary Washington rower Jim McMillin, a member of the Huskies' 1936 Olympic gold medal crew, died Aug. 22 in Kitsap County, Wash.
He is the second member of the famed UW 1936 crew to pass away this year. Coxswain Bob Moch died on Jan. 7. There are two surviving members of that crew - Roger Morris and Joe Rantz.
The tallest member of the 1936 crew, the 6-foot-7 McMillan was the captain and rowed in the No. 5 seat. The entire Washington varsity eight represented the United States at the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany.
The Olympic final was witnessed by 70,000 vocal spectators on Lake Grunau, including Adolf Hitler who presented gold medals and olive wreaths to the victorious Huskies. Entering the race, the crews from Germany and Italy were the heavy favorites.
The Husky-powered U.S. shell got off to a slow start, but steadily caught up with the field throughout the race. The U.S. boat took the lead in the final 50 meters, winning by a few feet.
That triumph has been heralded as one of the greatest moments in Seattle sports history. It was named the "Sports Event of the Century" by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper.
"That group was a big part of the fabric of sports here in the Northwest. Winning that race was one of the first things in sport that gave the community a personal identity," current UW rowing coach Bob Ernst has said. "There were no major league teams or professional sports at that time. The Huskies of course were great in football and basketball, but this was an international splash and the community was behind them. What they accomplished in Berlin was huge to Seattle and the Northwest."
The Americans had set the world and Olympic records with a time of 6:00.86 over the 2,000-meter course in their qualifying race.
The Husky boat faced many obstacles in the finals, however. The Americans were assigned lane six, which was the lane furthest from the Belgian starter that provided the opening commands in French. Lane six also had the choppiest water and strongest head wind. Even worse, Don Hume, the Huskies' strongest rower, fell ill before the race with walking pneumonia.
When the race was signaled to start, the Husky boat did not hear the command and found itself in last place. The Americans continued to struggle, still in last after 1,100 meters, and the Huskies were rowing without Hume who appeared to be unconsciousness.
At 1,200 meters, Hume became alert and Moch quickened the boat's pace. The Americans pushed to third place at 1,500, trailing the Italians by half a boat length and the Germans by a few feet. Moch continued to speed the pace, pushing their typical racing rate from 35 strokes per minute to 44.
The Huskies passed Germany and then Italy in the final 10 strokes to win the gold.
A graduate of Seattle's Queen Anne High School, McMillan was one of over 200 freshmen who tried out for the rowing team upon his arrival at UW. He rowed with the freshman and junior varsity boats his first two years before joining the varsity eight his final two seasons. The UW varsity eight never lost a race during his two-year tenure.
McMillan coached at the Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy after graduating from UW. He later worked as an engineer at Boeing and lived on Bainbridge Island for over 45 years.