They came from behind—counting their strokes, catching the Belgian boat, and gliding to gold on California’s Lake Casitas.
Theirs was the first Olympic gold medal in men’s double sculls for the U.S. since 1932. To date, it remains the last medal of any kind for America in that event.
While they took first place, neither had been selected by U.S. Olympic coaches.
Rowing partners Paul Enquist (’77 Mech. Eng.) and Brad Lewis earned their spot at the 1984 Summer Olympics by challenging—and besting—the national team.
“We didn’t take no for an answer,” says Enquist, who—along with Lewis—was cut from the Olympic selection camp.
About three weeks before the Olympic trials, the two started training together with the aim of beating the national boat. It would be their last chance to get to the 1984 Games.
“We stole a boat and two sets of oars, and got a rental car,” Enquist says. “It was an older boat. They were done using it, and we needed it. We didn’t ask. We loaded it onto this little car, and we drove (from Dartmouth in New Hampshire) to Cornell in Ithaca, New York, to train with college kids.”
Enquist and Lewis won the chance to compete at Lake Casitas, where the odds were also stacked against them. Harry Parker, head varsity rowing coach at Harvard—he had cut both Enquist and Lewis from the Olympic selection camp—served as their coach for the 2,000-meter event, which was dominated by Europeans.
“They didn’t know what to expect of us,” says Enquist, who wanted “to make sure that when I came off the water I’d done my best. Win or lose, as long as I’ve done my best I’m satisfied.”
He and Lewis raced three times at the 1984 Games: in an opening heat, qualifying race, and the finals.
“The key for us was to stick to our race plan, and don’t waver from it no matter what. We figured we would be in the hunt in the last 500 meters if we stick to our plan,” Enquist says. “I think a lot of those crews went out way too hard.”
For him and Lewis, though, “Everything was right. Our course was good. Our rhythm was good. Our spacing was good. And, on the halfway mark, we started passing people. We hadn’t changed a thing. We were still doing our thing. We had practiced those last 40 strokes really hard, and it worked. We crossed the finish line at the thirty-ninth stroke.”
Enquist retired from racing after the Olympics, and, he says, “Life went back to normal.”
He coached high school rowing in Seattle for three years, then devoted his time to raising a family and working as a commercial fisherman and longshoreman before retiring in 2018. He lives in Edmonds with his wife, Lisa.
Along with his medal, he kept the oars from his first-place Olympic race. “I have them in the basement.”
As for that boat that he and Lewis “borrowed” from the U.S. Olympic Committee, Enquist says, “We gave it back.”
Watch Paul Enquist and Brad Lewis row to Olympic gold in this news clip from 1984.
Read about 50 years of Cougar Crew in “Quite a crew.”