Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Chapter, ACBS

Volume 18, Issue 1 Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Chapter, ACBS March 2008

UPDATED March 18th 2008 - page 8


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Who Was Charles Courtney?

Charles E. Courtney was a native of Union Springs, NY and a carpenter by trade. He spent his spare time building boats and was considered one of the "best riggers in the world." He was also an outstanding oarsman, entering his first race in 1868 in Aurora, NY, and rowing his first "outside" race in 1873 in Syracuse. By 1877, Courtney had won 86 amateur races, and by 1890, he had won a total of 134 amateur and professional races, losing only seven. He held records for all distances with single-sculls, and in 1876, the Nation's Centennial Year, he won the International Amateur Single-Scull Championship in Philadelphia.

Courtney first met the Cornell "navy" in a two-mile race at Union Springs in 1872, which he and three teammates easily won. The next year, he arranged for the Cornell freshmen to meet the Harvard four at Ensenore on Owasco Lake, and in 1881, he spent ten days coaching the Cornell University four which went on to win the Lake George Regatta. Three years later, he began assisting in the training of Cornell's rowing team, and in 1889, he was selected to be the University's head rowing coach, organizing Cornell's first eight-man crew. His teams won every competition through the 1894 season, setting a world record for the mile-and-a-half race in the process.

In 1895, Cornell sent a team to the Henley Regatta in England, and the following year, the eight-man varsity boat set the world record for the four-mile race at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's Regatta at Poughkeepsie. In 25 years of IRA competitions in Poughkeepsie, Courtney's teams won 14 of 22 varsity races and 13 of 21 freshman races.

Courtney was a quiet, mild-mannered man. Those who trained under him attributed his success to an indomitable sense of victory which he instilled in his crews, and his ability to inspire absolute cooperation and coordination of effort. He insisted that his training rules be rigorously followed and that his men act as gentlemen and good students as well as good oarsmen. For training, the men worked out on rowing machines at the Cornell boathouse and in Ithaca's Old Armory. During good weather, they went out on the lake for eight to ten-mile "conditioning rows."

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