The annual battle for places in the Varsity shell is all but over, now, and the annual battle for possession of the Compton Cup has become the issue of the day at Newell boathouse.
This affair, which opens the two-month season a bare week from Saturday, is looked upon with some trepidation by Tom Bolles, the proverbially conservative coach.
He claims that bad weather and the horrendous physical condition of several of his charges have put him behind schedule. The former forced the shells off the river for one of the crucial vacation-day practice sessions, while rough waters and rain slowed down training for much of the rest of that week.
Crew Out of Shape
The aforementioned physical condition of some of the Varsity candidates, notably the returning H-men, has caused the lanky coach more than average difficulties. The situation is now all but solved, however, and in much the fashion that the boathouse experts had experted all along. All five veterans are back in the first boat once more.
Bill Curwen, an elongated Exonian who last year stroked the Crimson to the Eastern sprint championship and a record-breaking victory over Yale, is back in his old position, after being given a tough battle for the post by Sophomore Art Rouner. The latter is now stroking the Jayvees.
Ollie Iselin, a Sophomore who rowed seven on last year's Freshman boat, is holding down the same position on the Varsity at present, while right behind him Captain Frank Strong occupies his usual number six slot. Strong is one of two letterman to have held down their jobs since practice started.
Scully and Strong
The other is bowman Mike Scully, who is becoming almost a tradition around Newell, this being his fourth year on the Varsity. Scully, incidentally, is the only oarsman who has been gaining weight in the last month. He has out on 12 pounds while his compatriots have been trimming down their winter insulation.
Ted Anderson, a 17-year-old Michiganbred Sophomore, has survived the return of the old-timers to retain his number five post, while Don Felt--ten years Anderson's senior-holds down number four.
Ted Reynolds at three rounds out the veteran list, while Sophomore Clancy Asp, for whom the Freshman Yale race last year was his first and only experience, fills Felt's old number two slide.
That, at present, is the story, and it's unlikely to change much between now and April 23. Bolles doesn't guarantee this, but time is short, and is was not until this week that the boats have been hitting a racing beat over the mile and three quarters racing course.
Bolles says these time-trials are "like tasting the soup--you never know what you're going to get until you try." He therefore is still looking for the change in pace to bring about some last-minute changes in personnel, especially as he is not sure in his heart-of-heart that the current Varsity boat can consistently lick the Jayvees.
This despite the fact that Curwen's shell overcame a length handicap to finish two lengths ahead of his contenders over the racing distance last Tuesday.
So the process of sifting and shifting to find the right combination will continue. It is something only a crew coach can understand, and even he cannot explain it to the outsider. Bolles describes the task as "something you just see, or feel, or smell," but the job is not quite as nebulous as that. It consists of trying all the possible combinations until you hit upon the one that works best, but even when it happens you never know quite why it should be that way.
Mere size is not a factor; witness Frank Cunningham, the great 160-pounder who stroked the 1946 boat, or Ollie Filley, who stroked that 1947 Jayvees although he weighed only 155.
Age doesn't make the difference either, although an oarsman usually doesn't hit his peak of physical efficiency until his early twenties. (Bolles thinks the large number of older crewmen account for the high level of competition in postwar rowing). But Ted Anderson's presence in this year's boat seems to provide ample evidence that this rule is not infallible.
The ideal of every coach is to find eight men whose style is identical, but variations in arms, legs, and power make even this impossible. And mere physical conformity is not enough to make a crewman.
"A lot of imponderables," says Rolles sadly, "and you never have enough time that's what makes it touch."
But if its tough for Bolles, think how other coaches must feel.