HEROES OF THE PAST
Australia’s sculling legend
– Mervyn Wood
A grainy black-and-white photo shows Mervyn Wood sitting at the catch in his wooden single
scull, ready to race at the 1948 London Olympics. His 188cm, 85kg frame looks relaxed, but his
eyes are clearly focused. He is handsome with well-groomed dark hair. His right forearm,
though, appears smaller due to a childhood injury that would plague him throughout his
rowing career. He wears a simple singlet and shorts – the uniform of the day. Just over seven
minutes later the Australian would win gold by the biggest ever margin in an Olympic sculling
event – 14 seconds.
Nearly 50 years later, rowing historian Robin Poke
recalls meeting Wood at his home in the Sydney
suburb of Maroubra: “The main impression was
that even at an advanced age he was a striking
physical specimen: very tall, raw-boned, not an
ounce of fat on him, a handshake like a vice and
a full head of wavy hair. There is no doubt he had
a real sense of his place in Australian sporting
history. What was also evident was his passion
for his sport. He was up with contemporary
developments and very accepting of them.
Seeing his trophies, all proudly displayed in a
mahogany and glass cabinet, was awe-inspiring.”
© Hulton Archive/Getty Images
national title in the single eight times. He won the
Diamond Sculls (for the men’s single) twice at the
Henley Royal Regatta and earned three golds from
the British Empire and Commonwealth Games.
Wood began rowing at high school in Sydney when
a teacher suggested to Wood’s father it would be
a good way for the teenager to strengthen his
injured arm. Wood took to the sport and proved
early on that he was a shining light.
Straight from high school Wood became a cadet
at the Police Rowing Club. This was the start
of his career as a policeman being inextricably
intertwined with his top level rowing. Just turned
19, Wood had already worked his way into the
police eight which was selected, as Australia’s
fastest boat, to go to the 1936 Berlin Olympic
Wood’s crew finished fifth, but more importantly,
he had succumbed to the Olympic urge not only
to achieve more, but also to consider sculling.
Three years later Wood purchased a second-hand
single and started winning races straight away.
Wood was good enough that his nomination for
the 1940 Olympic team was assured.
Australian Mervyn Wood
after winning the Men’s
Single Sculls at Henley on
Thames during the 1948
London Olympic Games.
Wood is one of Australia’s most successful rowers.
He competed at four Olympic Games and there is
little doubt if it was not for World War Two, Wood
would have completed six Olympics. He won a
gold, silver and bronze Olympic medal and held the
World War Two, however, put a stop to Wood’s
Olympic chances. He would have to wait until
1948 for the opportunity to race again at the
Olympics. “I was 23 in 1940 and 27 in 1944,”
Wood told Poke. “I wanted badly to make up for
that loss.” >