DERBY, CONN.—If only the course had been 100 meters longer, the start a little crisper, or the first 1,000 meters more aggressive.
The if-onlys abound, but they won’t do much to bring the Goldthwait Cup back to Cambridge for the fourth consecutive year.
The Harvard varsity lightweights’ surge in the final 500 meters proved too little, too late in a failed attempt to claim the Goldthwait Cup in dual competition with Princeton and Yale on Saturday.
An open-water win from the Harvard second varsity and the second freshman eight’s win gave the Crimson its only victories of the day, as Yale snatched the Goldthwait Cup from its recent home in Newell Boathouse.
The Crimson first varsity struggled through a shaky first 1,000 meters and came alive only in the final 500, making up enough ground to make the race both dramatic and defeating.
“We continue to have these races where the first 1,000 doesn’t go well and the second 1,000 goes much better,” senior four-seat Wes Kauble said. “In the past, the second 1,000 might have gotten us a win. But against a Yale or a Princeton, you can’t just have 1,000 meters of good racing if you expect to win something.”
Harvard found itself down a length to host Yale by the midway point, a lopsided margin attributable to a tentative start and a shaky first half.
Not once has the Crimson put together a dominant opening 1,000 meters all season, and Saturday was no different. Harvard sat in a distant third at the midway point, as reigning national champion Yale built a solid lead over both crews on its home course.
“[The first 1,000] seemed a little bit unfocused, a little bit unsure,” said senior varsity coxswain Felix Yu. “When we came to the turn, we were finally able to focus in on our own boat and start being more effective.”
A staggered start on the Yale course sandwiched Harvard between Princeton and Yale as the three crews headed for the turn at the 1,000 meter mark. The Bulldogs had the advantage of the inside lane as the three crews prepped for the final 1,000.
And after the first half melted away after the turn, the Crimson transformed into an utterly different crew from the one that raced the first 1,000. A boat that gave up too much and took very little in the first half held firm against Yale and Princeton in the third 500.
“I felt like we had the intensity that we’d had in the past, in the races from a year ago,” Kauble said.
Coming into the final 500, Yale still claimed a near-length advantage, and Princeton trailed the leaders by a few seats.
But Harvard, stuck in third-place throughout, made the sort of move in the final 500 meters that it has mastered in a dual season marred by inconsistency. The Crimson took up the rating and found the rhythm it had so lacked in the first three minutes, tearing down the course in the furious final sprint to pull within seats of the Bulldogs and the Tigers.
The three crews crossed the line in close succession, as Yale (5:46.2) eked out a three-seat win over Princeton (5:47.2), and the Crimson (5:47.3) followed just 0.1 seconds behind the Tigers.
Over 500 meters, Harvard jumped both Princeton and Yale by close to a length, falling just short of Princeton by the width of a bow ball.
“We certainly had momentum coming into the finish,” Yu said, “and it just seemed like we didn’t go early enough and came up short. We should have had more initiative and focus in the first strokes of the race.”
The second varsity race provided the only bright spot for the Crimson on Saturday, as Harvard returned to its winning ways in a dominant open-water win over both crews.
The Crimson took the inside lane off the staggered start, its boat positioned four seats behind Yale and a length behind Princeton.
“I was really happy that we had lane one,” captain stroke Dan Reid said. “You start down, but I had a lot of faith in our ability to move aggressively in the first 1,000. And once you hit the turn, you almost win—it’s like a free length.”
As it turned out, the Crimson second varsity needed no favors on Saturday. Harvard built a four-seat on both Yale and Princeton by midway through the second 500 meters, and the lead stretched to a length by the halfway point.
“It felt fantastic. The [second varsity] has been having rows of a superior quality,” Reid said. “And you can only credit the guys behind you for having the patience and the intuition to move it along like that.”
After a disappointing nail-biter at Navy a week ago, the Crimson second varsity once again asserted itself in the second 1,000 meters.
Harvard added yet more to its lead, establishing an open-water advantage by 1250 meters down.
And the Crimson made it clear that any race on Saturday would be one for second place.
Harvard overcame Yale’s late flurry to maintain an open-water lead, and Harvard crossed the line in 5:50.9. The Bulldogs finished more than a length behind in 5:55.5, while Princeton followed in 5:56.5.
“The [second varsity] had been walked through at Navy and we were not going to allow that to happen again,” Reid said. “And it’s championship season now. We’re always looking for that extra bit of speed.”
—Staff writer Aidan E. Tait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.