Aug. 26, 2009, 10:41 a.m. (ET)

At the Games of the VII Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium, the men's eight rowing team had a breakthrough performance. The crew won gold, defeating the reigning British and breaking a stereotype that the sport was open only to the elite.

In previous Olympic Games and in other major rowing competitions -- one of the first sports at the modern Olympic Games -- rowing had been dominated by the British, but the Americans changed that in 1920. That year Team USA was represented by a crew from more modest means: men from the U.S. Naval Academy.

Richard A. Glendon coached the following Naval Academy students (in order of graduation year) to a first-place Olympic title: Edward P. Moore ('20), Edwin D. Graves ('21), Virgil V. Jacomini ('21), William C. Jordan ('21), Sherman R. Clark ('22), Vincent J. Gallagher ('22), Donald H. Johnston ('22), Clyde W. King ('22) and Alden R. Sanborn ('22).

In American history, rowing was a sport for the privileged crowd. The upper-class society created the rowers that competed. If the Navy crew wanted a shot at the Olympic Games, it had to beat out teams from the Ivy League universities. Glendon, however, managed to take a crew from the U.S. Naval Academy, some of whom came from land-locked states, to pull off a major upset.

First, he guided the U.S. Naval Academy past the Ivy League crews, and then he coached them to beat the mighty Royal Navy of the British Empire.

Everyone in America thought it would be a long shot, but the Navy prevailed, rowing its 60-foot-long shell to Olympic victory.

After the rowers realized they had won, they threw their coxswain, Clark, overboard in typical rowing fashion; Moore and Graves raised their oars over their heads, and ran around in a state of celebratory joy; and Glendon accepted his protégés' medals in front of the largest crowd to attend an Olympic event during that time.

And as if winning an Olympic gold medal wasn't enough, Team USA broke the standing world and Olympic record. The crew finished the race with a time of 6:02.6, seven seconds less than the record set at the 1912 Games.

Beginning with that gold medal in 1920 -- the same year the five Olympic rings made their debut -- the crew set a precedent in the event that led to the longest winning streak in a single sport in Olympic history. The men's eight captured gold at each Games through the 1956 Games. (The Germans snapped Team USA's winning streak by capturing the Olympic gold medal in 1960.)

But the U.S. Olympic team in 1920 is the one that has been credited with getting Team USA's dominance started and has been dubbed "The Wonder Crew'' in a book. And in the rowing world, it truly was a wonder on the water.