Crew at Harvard wallows in contradictions. The shortest season (just five races); the longest season (practice every day, all year). The most neglected (just a handful of spectators attend); the highest quality (the heavies are ranked second in the nation).
And this Sunday, in front of a freshman football-sized crowd, the Harvard heavyweight crew will set out to take the Eastern Sprints crown from number-one ranked Yale, its owners for the past two years.
Two-year droughts at the Sprints don't come very often for the Crimson; coach Harry Parker has only had one in his 17 years at the Harvard helm. Three year droughts...well, they don't like to talk about such things down at Newell Boat House.
But to unseat the Elis will prove at best a formidable task. Both crews stand undefeated after the early season match races. By virtue of its triumphs last year and its impressive victory margins this spring the Elis topped the Crimson in the national coaches poll.
Ted Nash, coach of a Penn boat that has lost to both Harvard and Yale, sees it this way: "I think that Yale is a stronger crew, and Harvard is a racier crew," which means the Crimson performs better in race conditions.
But the Quaker coach made one damaging observation: "Yale has a better boat than it did last year--more cohesive, a much more mature crew."
If that's the case, Harvard could be in trouble. The Elis blasted to a length-and-a-quarter victory on Worcester's Lake Quinsigamond, also the site of this year's race. Indeed, Harvard never seemed to be in contention as a huge Yale boat moved out to a 3.4 second victory.
Parker will not go quite that far. "All indications are that they're just as strong as last year."
Yale coach Tony Johnson has lost several of his biggest burners, some to graduation and others to the Canadian Olympic team, but he retains a proven group of very large racers.
>While both crews have about equal experience, the Crimson sports a much younger roster. Captain Charlie Altekruse is the only senior, and four juniors and three sophs fill the rest of the shell.
The oarsmen have yet to decide what shell it will be. They have raced all of this year and last in a Schoenbrod but have been practicing in a brand new Carbocraft, the shell Yale employs. Parker, cards close to the vest, will not say which brand the Crimson will row.
Of course, the stoic coach will not offer a prediction of any kind. Is he optimistic? "I don't know if that's the right word," Parker said, explaining, "Hopeful is more like it."