The Crimson heavyweights underwent their own odyssey this Saturday on the Charles: long, plagued by difficult situations, stormy conditions, and formidable foes—but eventually an epic success.
Sixth-ranked Harvard was racing third-ranked Brown for the Stein Cup, which the Bears won last year, breaking the Crimson’s five-year hold on it. The Harvard oarsmen had to contend not only with their human opponents, though, but with a headwind that battled them fiercely every stroke of the way.
“It was very tough weather conditions,” said first freshman boat coxswain Joe Lin. “At first, there were waves splashing up over the oarlocks.”
Nevertheless, the morning started off well with a victorious showing by the varsity boat—but not before a bit of tension.
“We didn’t have a bad start, but we were still slightly down,” captain Nick Baker said.
“We got dropped off the start,” added junior and varsity stroke George Kitovitz. “The weather was awful. But we kept the pressure on them, and I guess they just couldn’t keep up with us and gradually dropped back.”
By about 400 meters, the Crimson had made up the few seats it had lost and drew level with the Bears before pulling ahead in the third 500 to usher in a five-second win of 6:31.4 to Brown’s 6:36.6.
“We’re really happy because the boat showed real maturity,” Kitovitz said. “No one panicked when we were a few seats back. The important thing is to put all the little externalities out of your head—what the weather’s like, whether you’re at home or away, whatever the rankings are—and just stay focused.”
But although the varsity race was tense, the biggest thrills of the morning came from the first freshman crew, who, after falling back by over a length, not only made up the gap but then pushed almost half a length ahead of the Bears in the last 600 meters.
“The first half of the race definitely had the worst conditions, and it took us a little while to settle into it,” Lin said. “Brown handled it better than we did and kept their stroke rating up higher than ours, and after the first [25 strokes], they were about a length up.”
But the boat rallied and began to close the gap with 750 meters to go, and with 500 to go they came back into contact with the Bears.
“Though it wasn’t our best, we stayed stubborn in the first half and didn’t let them get away,” Lin said. “With 1000 meters to go, we knew we were going to come back. And when we got back in contact, I let the guys know, and the boat just got better and better after that. We kept pushing on them, tightening the screws.”
“Our seven-seat, Richard Anderson, said to me afterwards that when we had about seven strokes to go, he looked over and made eye contact with one of them, and he just knew we’d cracked them,” he added.
In those last seven strokes, the Crimson freshmen pushed past Brown’s bow to win in 6:35.8. Brown finished in 6:36.6.
In between the two, the second varsity suffered a defeat when Brown took an early lead, then kept widening the gap for an eventual 12-second margin of victory, clocking in at 6:46.4 to Harvard’s 6:58.7.
The third varsity appeared to be doing well in the first half of their race, but fate was against them, and a broken oar with 700 meters to go held them back to a second-place finish.
“The conditions were terrible, and there was an enormous headwind, which meant the boat was copping a bit of flak,” said sophomore Tom Fleming, the five-seat whose oar was lost. “Around the 1000-meter mark, as we started to push ahead of Brown, I noticed that bits were falling off my blade. I managed to take about another 10 to 15 strokes before, unfortunately, the blade simply broke in two because of the pressure forced on the oar without something to leverage against.”
“Numerous people came up to me after the race to tell me they thought the boat felt better without me rowing—that was definitely very encouraging,” he added.
In spite of being one oar down and having the extra dead weight to be carried by the other seven oarsmen, though, the boat still held its own and crossed the finish line nine seconds behind the Bears with a time of 6:53.2.
The last race of the day, the second freshman boat, echoed the overall feeling and results on the course, though, when the Crimson took a comfortable victory over Brown. Harvard’s 6:51.1 win put the crew over 27 seconds ahead of the other team’s 7:18.5.
“Overall, it was a strong performance,” Baker said. “Obviously, some of the boats didn’t do as well as they hoped, and there’s still room for improvement, but the goal is just to get faster and faster every week.”
Next week, Harvard races against Princeton, another very strong crew.
“Princeton will be quick,” Baker said. “We can’t take anything for granted going into that race.”
—Staff writer Alexandra C. Bell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.