The then Soviet Union sculler started rowing in 1953 and, at the age of eighteen, became Olympic Champion at the 1956 Olympic regatta in Melbourne. He repeated this great achievement in 1960 in Rome then followed it with a win again in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics. In 1962, Ivanov became the first-ever World Champion in the men’s single sculls at the first World Championships in Lucerne, Switzerland 49 years ago.

Vyacheslav Ivanov
Three-time Olympic Champion Vyasheslav Ivanov (RUS) visits The Olympic Museum in Lausanne on Wednesday 7 July, 2011. © World Rowing

What is most striking about Ivanov’s achievements in rowing is the manner in which he raced. He was, without doubt, a man ahead of his time, both in the speed that he could attain in the single, and in the technique he used to do so.

Tactically, Ivanov told FISA he carefully studied the strategies and tactics of leading track and field athletes. As he watched them race, he realized those who were successful rarely led from the start. They certainly did not sprint at the start as was the tradition in rowing. He applied this tactic very successfully and, as you can see in the video of his Olympic races, he started at a moderate stroke rate, and then steadily Ivanov started his attacks at 1000m, picking off the field one by one at devastating pace and rate.

He said, “my stroke rate could reach 60 strokes a minute” in a race.

Rivals at the time Stuart Mackenzie of Australia and later Great Britain, and Achim Hill of Germany were infuriated by the teenager whose final sprint in the last 500m often robbed them of the Olympic glory that they presumed was theirs. Most memorably, in 1964, Ivanov was seven seconds behind Hill with 500m to go but, with astounding strength, speed and power, closed the gap and went on to win by almost four seconds.

When asked if he was nervous, being so far behind Hill with so little of the race remaining, Ivanov said: “No, I was confident. I was ready to attack.”

In 1956 when he sculled through Mackenzie with just 200m to go, he recounts the Australian sculler “dropped his oars and stopped rowing. When I saw this, I stopped racing too. As Mackenzie picked up his rate again, I had to as well”.

Ivanov’s sculling technique was most unusual for the era in which he was rowing; he remained straight-armed during the drive phase amongst other technicalities deemed “incorrect” by the current Soviet team coaches.  Ivanov believes his technique was “simple”, and rightly so, for it was the basis for what has become the FISA development programme standard. It is now the technique employed by nearly all coaches worldwide.

Not only was the Russian a World and Olympic Champion, he was also the first single sculler to ever break the seven minute barrier, recording a World Best Time of 6.58.8 at the 1959 European Rowing Championships in Macon, France.

Speaking about single sculling today, Ivanov notes the evolution of the boats and blades.

“The wooden sculls weighed 2.2kg. Now carbon fibre sculls weigh about 600 grams. If I had had the opportunity to use today’s equipment and the same time for preparation, I know I could have been so much faster. If they were rowing in my time, I could have beaten them.”

For now, aged 73, Ivanov still rows when he has the time.

Ivanov will travel to Lucerne on Friday and be available to sign autographs and have photographs taken. He will be honoured as a “Legend of Rowing” on Sunday during the lunch break.