ANNAPOLIS -- Wearing gold T-shirts that proclaimed, "The older we get, the better we were," Navy's eight-man Olympic crew of 1952 made a comeback last weekend.

The teammates, whose rowing weight has increased by as much as 40 pounds each, gathered for a 35th reunion celebration of their gold-medal defeat of the Soviet Union in the 1952 Olympics.

Friday afternoon, they again maneuvered into a Naval Academy shell called "The Great Eight," so named because they went undefeated for three years, including the gold medal they won as sophomores.

And as 35 years disappeared, the eight moved their shell on a slicing line in the Severn River.

"Where do you begin? It was fantastic," said Dick Murphy of New York as he remembered the crew's golden years. "It's hard to say what the best part was. When we started together, only one of us had ever been in a shell before."

During Saturday's 6 a.m. races against Wisconsin, the "Great Eight" watched from a Navy yard patrol boat.

Only two of Navy's eight teams won their races last weekend. The problem was a style other than the 1952 method, the experts said.

"I don't think much of that change in style," said Jim Dunbar, an Arlington resident. "They seem to hang in the bow longer."

In 1952, the eight and their coxswain rowed about 5,000 miles a year. They practiced morning and night six days a week.

Murphy said he came to the academy with his heart focused on football. Plebe year was just under way, however, when a former oarsman targeted him for crewing.

Coach Rusty Callow sent experienced oarsmen to physical education tests, to select those who looked like rowers. Murphy went to talk with Callow, and somehow the football dreams faded.

"It just gets in your blood. They used to call it 'the call of the oar,' " Murphy said.

All of the '52 crew team remains, but Callow died in 1965.

Rusty was a master psychologist. "He put eight guys together and we stayed together for three years -- 29 races -- and nobody ever beat us," Murphy said. "To my knowledge, no one was ever even ahead of us.