On July 7, the Harvard men's heavyweight crew won the premier event at the world's premier rowing regatta for the first time in more than a quarter of a century.
The Crimson copped the Grand Challenge Cup at the 140th annual Henley Royal Regatta in Henley-on-Thames, England, with a three and two-third lengths victory over Ivy League rival Princeton in the first all-American final in 18 years.
Harvard, which in 1914 became the first American crew ever to win the Grand Challenge Cup, hadn't won the prestigious event since 1959.
But its fifth Grand Challenge Cup triumph of all time was never in doubt after the national champion Crimson crew gained a length lead less than halfway through the one-mile, 50-yard course on the River Thames.
When Harvard crossed the finish line, it marked the fourth Crimson victory this season over the Princeton Tigers and brought to an end year-long speculation as to which was the better crew.
Three weeks ago at the national championships in Cincinatti, Harvard edged out Princeton by only 47-hundreths of a second. That victory was followed by an unexpected Princeton protest, later withdrawn, that the champions had lodged their extra weight, required to make up for the weight of the coxswain, under the number five seat instead of within reach of the coxswain, as is customary.
"That was a bogus protest," said Harvard coxswain Devin Mahony, who became the first female cox ever to win the Grand Challenge Cup. Princeton withdrew its complaint because there are no formal rules regarding the placement of the extra weight, only customs.
But at Henley, there was no argument. The Tigers took a slight lead at the start of the race, but, by the quarter-mile point, the Crimson began to pull away, leading by a bow. Princeton tried to answer Harvard's whirlwind start with spurts between the half-mile to one-mile markers, but made no real impression.
Rowing at a consistent 37 strokes per minute, the Harvard crew of Neil Olsen, Dan Grout, Arthur Hollingsworth, George Hunnewell, Rich Kennelly, Curt Pieckenhagen, Andrew Hawley, Andy Sudduth at stroke and Mahony at cox kept pulling further away and Princeon's challenge fell by the wayside in the final part of the race.
"Frankly we felt even before we came to the start line that we would win because we were much fresher," said Mahony.
Harvard, which this season set both a Charles River course record and a Harsha Lake record at the nationals against Princeton, covered the Thames course in 6:27, a full 30 seconds faster than its 1959 winning mark.
"We got out strong and held it," said Sudduth, a silver medalist in eights at the 1984 Olympics.
Princeton stroke Harry Becker, a member of Canada's Olympic team, said that his squad "didn't mean to let them go out as far as they did." He added that he "didn't know they were so far ahead of us."
Princeton's tough semifinal victory on Saturday against the University of London crew--the fastest crew in Britain this year--may have taken something out of the Tigers.
"We certainly thought so," said Princeton Coach Larry Gluckman. "Several of the crew said they felt fatigued and they didn't really respond when it was needed. But we are still excited to have gotten to the final of the Grand."
Harvard set a blistering pace in its semifinal effort Saturday, never trailing Cambridge University. The Crimson won that contest with a time of 6:23.
The Harvard junior varsity heavyweight crew was not as lucky. The j.v. boat was beaten Saturday in Henley's second most important race for eights, the Ladies Challenge Plate, losing in the quarterfinals by a half-length to a formidable Irish crew, Garda Siochana.
Leander, a local English crew that beat Princeton's lightweight eight in the Ladies Plate semifinals, went on to down Garda Siochana in that event's finals.