It’s finally safe to say that opponent never showed up.
With the same haunting precision that has downed all comers since 2002, the Crimson successfully defended its Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national title Saturday with a 4.85-second victory over No. 2 Washington on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
“I like this one even more than last year,” said eight-seat Kristopher “Kip” P. McDaniel ’04. “Last year was a surprise. This year it was expected and everyone was gunning for us. We had a big bull’s eye on our back and I think we pulled it off even more impressively than last year.”
Prior to last year’s championship regatta, both Harvard and Yale traditionally skipped the event to train for their grueling four-mile season-ending dual, but a change in the Bulldogs’ coaching staff led to the abandonment of that policy and both teams participated in the 2003 competition. And judging by the way they’ve responded, it seems the Crimson rowers don’t mind all that much.
“More than anything, it’s just intensely satisfying to know that our season is secure,” said two-seat Jordan D. Sagalowsky ’04. “We’ve accomplished almost everything we wanted to as a class and a crew while we’ve been in been in the program.”
Of the eight members in the first shell, six are seniors, as are their coxswain and six members of the second varsity boat. That second varsity boat took second in its Grand Final, helping Harvard to capture the Ten Eyck Trophy as the nation’s best heavyweight crew top to bottom.
The Crimson, seeded first in the field, advanced easily through the two preliminary heats, conserving energy while scouting west coast powers Washington and No. 4 California, neither of which Harvard had seen prior to the regatta nor raced until a semifinal encounter with the Golden Bears.
The final—which featured five of the top six crews in the nation—faithfully mirrored nearly every race the Crimson has rowed in its 2004 campaign.
Harvard surrendered seats during a frenzied start but wasted little time powering its way to the lead and, eventually, an open-water victory.
“It felt like it was scripted,” said four-seat Jonathan D. Lehe ’04. “We know if we don’t let anybody jump us by more than a seat or two off the start we can pull it back. We know we’ve got more base speed in the middle than anyone else.”
Despite an unfavorable lane assignment, California set the tempo early, taking an early two-seat lead over the Crimson with the rest of the field pursuing a similar strategy.
“California started as hard as they could and got off the start as fast as they could,” Sagalowsky said. “I don’t think Washington was able to gain much of an advantage. I wasn’t surprised at all...[After watching the semifinals,] everyone knew they would have to start off hard against us.”
But rather than provide a substantial lead, the early bursts only wore down Harvard’s opponents, who initially held even at nearly 40 strokes per minute while the Crimson rowed at 35.
With 700 meters down, Harvard had erased the small deficit from the start and began to steadily pull away.
Just 400 meters later, the Crimson had walked through the other crews to a one-length lead and showed no signs of fading.