Harvard, Yale Top Oxford, Cambridge for Naughton Trophy
The now biennial track meet, which traces its origin to 1894, when Yale first competed against Oxford, is unique as it pits America against Britain, joining the traditional rivals Harvard and Yale to face their English peers from Oxford and Cambridge.
Henry Wilder Foote, a Harvard member of the first Harvard-Yale delegation in 1899, was surprised by the warm Harvard-Yale relationship. “The Yale men were nice fellows, and we all got on splendidly together,” he wrote his uncle, the president of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot. Yet, “as far as winning was concerned, they might just as well have stayed home,” for as Foote describes, “the Yale failure to score was not through any ill luck, but simply because the men weren’t good enough.”
After its initial loss in 1899, the Harvard-Yale team rebounded—winning the next contest in New York—but throughout the competitions, the sense of camaraderie has never wavered.
“Most of the memories are of the people,” Harvard coach Frank Haggerty ’68 said. “It’s something these kids will look back on for a long time and appreciate.”
Haggerty reminisced about his own competition experiences and recalled that current Yale coach Mark Young competed with him against Oxford and Cambridge at the 1967 contest.
In 2003, the Harvard-Yale team narrowly edged the Oxford-Cambridge squad in Cambridge, England with both sides winning 10 events. Fortunately, the Harvard-Yale team held the tie-breaker to claim the victory—more second-place finishes.
This meet, the 40th contest between these schools, saw the Harvard-Yale team claim a considerable victory—retaining the Naughton Trophy—and move the overall series record to 28-12. The Harvard-Yale team combined for a 13-6 victory for the women and a 13-7 victory for the men.
This year, the contest was held Saturday at Harvard’s McCurdy Track, but the site of the competition alternates between schools—and hence, sides of the Atlantic. The competition returns home to England, where it will be hosted by Oxford, in 2007.
Unlike typical American track meets, this competition uses traditional British scoring where one point is awarded to the winner of each event. There are 20 events: eight field events and 12 running events for the men and 19—missing the 10,000 meter run—for the women. Traditionally, the Americans have held an edge in field events while the British have distinguished themselves in the distance races.
The meet boasts an elite history filled with world champions, record-breaking performances, and track and field legends. Herb Elliot, Roger Bannister, Harold Abrahams, and Lord Burghley all competed for the British while William Schick Jr., ’05, Aggrey Awori ’65, Wendell Mottley, and Ned Gourdin ’21—who set a world record (25’3”) in the long jump at the 1921 contest—all represented the United States. Roger Bannister—who won the mile in 4:11.9 for Oxford-Cambridge in the 1949 contest—had found memories of representing not only his school but his country in this competition.
“We didn’t win the heavy field events. We won some of the sprints, and we won the mile. So it was very interesting. A wonderful opportunity,” recalled Bannister in an interview with American Academy of Achievement in 2000.
This year saw several standout performances. For the women, sophomore Julia Pederson won the javelin, freshman Dimma Kalu took the women’s 200-meter, and freshman Lindsay Scherf won the women’s 1500-meter.
For the men, senior Kristoffer Hinson won the shotput, sophomore Reed Bienvenu won the 10,000-meter, and senior Alasdair McLean-Foreman won the 800-meter.
Grace Clements of Oxford-Cambridge won the Pat Liles Outstanding Performer award for the best individual performance, winning the 400-meter hurdles and the triple jump while coming in third in the long jump and running a stretch of the mile relay.
Excited by the Americans’ victory—or perhaps the result of a bet—the Yale team celebrated by throwing their coach, David Shoehalter, into the water pit used for the steeple chase.
After the meet, there was a reception for all involved at the Charles Hotel. The event was a great chance to interact with the Oxford-Cambridge team, celebrate with Yale teammates, receive awards, reflect on significance of the meet, and exchange a Harvard track T-shirt for an Achilles Oxford-Cambridge shirt.
“[The British] were all nice guys,” said freshman 400-meter runner John Wofsey, “and they have funny accents.”
“It’s amazing how many track alumni say that the thing they remember the most about their athletic experience is competing in the Oxford-Cambridge meet,” Haggerty said. “It just gives you a special sense. You’re almost thrown back into history.”