Heavyweight Crew: Higher and Higher
They aren't playing games at Newell Boathouse--not at this point in the season anyway, and not this year. If one of Harvard's heavyweight oarsmen tells you that the squad's been doing "straight forward hard-type stuff," he means just that.
Only Harvard crew coach Harry Parker would dare to ask his squad to practice seven days a week without fear of a possible mutiny. Only Harvard can boast three 1974 World Champion oarsmen. And only at Harvard would those three gold medalists have to fight for a seat in the varsity.
Last Sunday, two Harvard eights raced for over two hours straight--eight full 2000-meter pieces. The squad's two world champion strokes were playing something they call "the cadence game," which means rowing at the opponent boat's rate of strokes per minute, no matter how high that rate might be, no matter how low Parker wants it to be.
The world "game" is a euphemism; racing at a lower cadence is a great disadvantage. When Parker asks one of the strokes to lower the cadence, the stroke's pained grimace decontorts itself just long enough to hurl an angry string of obscenities at the coach. "Well," says Parker calmly putting down his megaphone, "it's good to know they care."
If the concern this year is more intense than in other years, it is because Harvard's heavyweights have a difficult act to follow--Harvard's 1974 record-breaking national champion team. They don't like to talk or think about it, but the pressure is there just the same.
Last year at this time, there were no gold medalists at Harvard, no medalists at all. Harvard had not won the Sprints for three straight years. There was a goal and a time-buttressed determination to achieve one goal--to climb back to the top of U.S. rowing.
Harvard did not climb; it flew. The varsity beat Brown by six lengths, the largest margin ever against the Bruins. It set the course record at Princeton. It crushed Penn and Navy for the Adams Cup. Finally, it won the Sprints--by five seconds.
In June, the varsity decimated Yale: the elated Harvard eight had to wait a stunning 71 seconds for the Elis to dribble across the finish line. Later that month, the squad sprinted to a narrow victory over Wisconsin and set another course record in Washington, invalidating all other claims to the national championship title.
In March they were humble aspirants. By June, they were "the smooth, the rude and the fast, "cocky, arrogant and understandably confident.
But the 1975 Harvard heavyweights, in the surprisingly uncomfortable position of being on page 4/Dump Truck top, are quiet these days. They know that everyone will be out to beat the crew that beat every other collegiate crew worth beating last year. And although the oarsmen are confident that they can do it again, they exude a different sort of confidence--calm and professional.
If there is any slight uneasiness, you can sense it in the half-empty locker rooms. Last season's squad had unusual depth: enough oarsmen to fill three and a half boats produced an undefeated JV and a 3V which beat many varsity boats. This year Harvard will have one less boatful of oarsmen. Three varsity members have graduated and the loss of last year's star sophomore Ollie Scholle due to a knee injury may take its toll on the overall speed of the squad.
But the boats are moving faster and smoother daily.
Seat racing has just started, but if one thing is certain it is that there will be no free rides into the varsity boat. Gold medalists A1 Shealy, Dick Cashin and Rick Grogan, all the varsity oarsmen, and "a couple of last year's JVs who aren't rowing like JVs anymore" will be fighting for varsity spots along with promising sophomores such as Bill Kerins and John Brock.
And it won't be an easy season for those who make the varsity. The crew will begin racing earlier than it ever has, beginning on April 5 in San Diego. Anxious to avenge last year's defeats will be UCal. Washington and the traditionally strong Wisconsin eight.
On April 19, the crew will race against Brown and UMass. On consecutive weekends, Harvard will battle contenders for the Compton and Adams Cups. And, in May, the crew will peak again for the Sprints and another meeting with ever-threatening Wisconsin.
The squad will race twice in New London after second semester ends. On June 7, it will treat Yale to its traditional trouncing. On the 21st Harvard will host a rematch with Washington.
Said Parker, "It'll probably be the longest and most challenging season we've ever had. There will be more hurdles to cross than there have ever been. If the crew wants to make a name for itself, this is their chance."
The crew hopes, as it does every year, that that chance will include a shot at Henley's Grand Challenge Cup. And, this year, Parker seems persuadable.
One Harvard heavyweight believes that "last year was the year before the year," that this year's crew will be the fastest ever. But although they hope that is true, most oarsmen, like Captain Blair Brooks, are more cautious. Explained Brooks," It's a pretty mature squad and we have a much more professional attitude. We know what we have to do to make boats go fast--work really hard."
On Sunday, as the crew was doing just that, Parker was also cautious. Usually, if you ask him a question, he'll tilt his head up, roll back his eyes and answer with a calm, "Oh really?" or "Not really" or just plain "really" which every Harvard oarsman can mimick in tonal perfection. When he wants to think about something, Parker will look out the nearest window and there will be a long, uneasy silence.
"Do you think that this year's crew has a more professional attitude?"
"Do you think that this year's crew compares itself to last's?"
Do you compare last year's crew to this one? Stumped, he looks over the windshield of his launch-the long Parker pause. And then, rolling his eyes back once more, a broad smile creeps across his face.
"Well, There's nothing to compare them to yet. Is there, really?"
In Newell Boathouse, there are stickers on every oar upon which oarsmen's names have been embossed: Brooks, Bixby, Hovey and so on. But on one oar is a sticker which reads simply, "Row well."
That is, after all, what winning is all about--rowing well and hard. If Harvard's heavyweights follow this course, with potential and practice behind them, there is no way that 1975 won't be "the Year"-the year that takes the Harvard crew again to the top of U.S. collegiate rowing, and, quite possibly, beyond