The spectacled Harvard alumnus laid his tweed jacket and his program on the grassy bank of the Charles and glanced smilingly out towards the river, the stage of the events he had come to witness. Suddenly, his look turned from one of quiet contentment to furrowed consternation. Squinting his eyes and pushing his glasses halfway into his cornea, he confirmed his suspicions; "Damned if those aren't women out there rowing with men in the same Harvard boat."
Indeed there were women rowing with men and none of the old alum's mutterings about his money being used for women who would take the sliding seat of his grandson and how pretty soon there would be pregnant women in the army could do anything about it.
Sunday in the Head of the Charles, mixed eights were brought into the Cambridge rowing scene for the first time. And the women did indeed row every single stroke the men did. It wasn't row one, take a rest, row one, take a rest, or anything like that. Every time their Harvard colleagues plunged the blade into the murky Charles and jerked it as hard as they were able throught the water, the women did the same.
If that surprised, even shocked, the old alum, one aspect of the mixed racing was pleasantly familiar to him; Harvard rowed the course in the shortest amount of time. In fact Harvard's heavyweight mixed bag powered the three miles in 16 fewer seconds than Vesper, the second quickest eight.
Unfortunately for the Crimson, they officially placed only second because of close, illegal, and, to be perfectly honest, rather mysterious encounters with four different buoy markers. Despite the fact that her boat started first, traveled fastest, and thus avoided any interference problems with other boats, the Crimson cox, Liz-Ellen LaFollette managed to steer the scull on the wrong side of four buoys. I guess Harvard sometimes has to make gestures that will keep the other crews coming back for more. Like the men's heavyweight varsity loss to Yale at the sprints for the first time since 1973; if Harvard won again, who knows, maybe the other teams would have packed their bags and never returned to Worcester. Losing all the time is no fun.
While the buoy mix-up somewhat marred the Harvard heavyweight mixed eight debut, the boat's time, without the 30-second penalty, made it memorable nonetheless. The mixed heavies steamed down the Charles in 16 minutes and 43 seconds, only 48 seconds slower than the Crmson eight-man elite eight. Doug Wood, who stroked the mixed eight, and rowed in the other boat, said yesterday that the mixed boat felt faster for all but a few short patches in the three miles; it didn't lag between strokes as it had sometimes in practice.
The heavy mixed boat wasn't the only co-ed eight that challenged the Charles Sunday. A rather plucky and very light crew also rowed and finished a remarkable fourteenth. The lightweights set back 26 crews, almost all of whom were heavier than them--by about a ton.
If more evidence of the ever-increasing strength of women is needed to make old Crimson codgers begin to believe that power is more than a myth, let them consider this. In the lightweight men's race a Radcliffe eight, all women, outraced a Colgate eight, all men. Granddad better tell his third generation, dyed in the wool Harvard male chauvinist to get back on the erg. Big Bertha's closing in on him.