Frank Read began as a rowing coach when the University of British Columbia approached the Vancouver Rowing Club in 1949 to share manpower and facilities. Read quickly built up a dynasty of powerhouse rowers who dominated international competition for over a decade. Read was widely regarded as one of the world’s top rowing coaches. His decade of coaching from 1950-60 is remembered as Vancouver’s “Golden Era of Rowing.”
Read had been a rower himself in the 1930s, but had focussed solely on his hotel businesses for many years when he returned to the sport to coach.
Hard-nosed, gruff, and a strict disciplinarian Read quickly weeded out those rowers that were anything but totally committed to the program’s success. Those that thrived in his strict, gruelling training regimen admired Read greatly. He had a knack for molding green crews of inexperienced university students into world beaters.
Read primarily guided the UBC-VRC eights and fours crews and recorded a remarkable list of victories unsurpassed in Canadian rowing to that point. The initial breakthrough came with an upset gold medal victory of the UBC-VRC eights over the heavily favoured English crew at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games.
The Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip was so impressed with Read’s crew he personally extended an invitation to the UBC-VRC crew to attend the Henley Royal Regatta the following year. With largely the same crew, Read took his boys to the Henley in 1955 where they stunned the reigning world champion Russian crew in the semifinals in the most memorable race of the regatta. Read’s boys put up a gallant effort against the Americans in the final but settled for the silver.
In 1956, Read prepared two crews for the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia–a fours crew and an eights crew. Both ended up medalling in dramatic fashion. The eights won a silver medal, while the fours won an unlikely gold medal–Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in rowing.
After a brief leave from the program, Read returned to guide the eights crew that qualified for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. There his UBC-VRC boys won another silver medal for Canada. He retired for good after that result.
In 1965, Read was involved in the formation of the BC Sports Hall of Fame and served as the Hall of Fame’s first chairman.
Read is also inducted in the UBC Sports Hall of Fame. For his UBC biography, please visit www.ubcsportshalloffame.com