It is rare in any sport that top competitors get to face each other in the regular season just weeks before they would see each other in championship action. On the collegiate men’s lightweight rowing scene, though, the annual Harvard-Yale-Princeton regular season regatta presents exactly this opportunity.
Last Saturday morning in Princeton, N.J., three of the fastest crews in the nation—the No. 1 Princeton Tigers, No. 2 Harvard Crimson, and No. 4 Yale Bulldogs—met in perfect weather conditions to test the rankings and see each other’s speed prior to Eastern Sprints and the IRA Championships. In the first of three consecutive contests between the crews, the Crimson (10-0) walked away as the Vogel Cup team champions, having earned the most points overall.
The first varsity and freshman eights also capped off perfect dual racing seasons.
“I don’t really think you ever have to motivate anyone for HYP’s, because it’s such a historic race,” said captain and varsity five seat Martin Eiermann. “It’s always a very contested race, and this year it was great to have three of the top four teams in the country going after each other.”
Entering the race with an undefeated record in the regular season up until that point, Harvard’s varsity eight was likely motivated to keep its streak alive. The crew fell back a couple seats off of the start, but as the Tigers (7-1)—racing in the middle lane—began to pull away, the Crimson went with them.
“As the race progressed, Yale fell off the pace, and we continued to trail Princeton,” said sophomore stroke Tim Moore. “But then in the third 500 [meters], our base started pushing us up on them, and then with about 400 to go we were even.”
The Harvard varsity persistently chipped away at the Tigers’ advantage down the entire course, letting its strong base rhythm push the boat’s bow-ball back into Princeton.
In the final 250 meters of the race, the Crimson brought up the stroke rating and poured on the power to sprint through the opposition.
Harvard’s varsity finished just over half a second—the equivalent of two seats—ahead of the Tigers in a final time of 5:40.7 to Princeton’s 5:41.4. With the victory, the Crimson claimed the Goldthwait Cup for the 41st time in program history and also became the 27th Harvard varsity crew to go unbeaten in regular-season competition.
The Harvard second varsity eight entered Saturday’s competition as the top-ranked crew in its category. From the very start, though, it fell behind the pace of the pack and finished down on both Princeton and second-place Yale (3-3-1).
“This was not the kind of speed that they have,” said Eiermann of the 2V boat. “I have no doubt that they will be able to rally back for Sprints. They were ranked No. 1 in the country before this weekend for a reason. And, as long as they put the race behind them and keep looking forward, it ought to be a very good Sprints Regatta.”
The Crimson first freshman eight mirrored the varsity’s performances all season long, and this past Saturday was no exception. The rookies trailed the Tigers for the first 1,200 meters of the race but rowed them down on the second half of the course. Harvard’s final margins of victory over Princeton and Yale were 3.5 and 8.7 seconds, respectively, and the crew’s overall time was 5:53.0.
“These [freshmen] are just a very mentally tough crew,” said junior and varsity six seat Will Newell. “They look very strong, but what’s more noticeable to me is their mental toughness. They all seem to be on the same page.”
The third varsity and second freshman eights each garnered second-place finishes. The third varsity posted a time of 6:06.4 that was 3.3 seconds back from Yale. Similarly, the second freshman crew finished behind Yale by 5.2 seconds in a time of 6:24.4.
The Crimson now has two weeks without a race before meeting Princeton, Yale and the rest of the Eastern Sprints League in Worcester, Mass. More than ever, Harvard will have to push to find speed as everyone else is chasing it down.
“In the end, a lot of the season is measured by how you do at Sprints and IRA’s because those are the races where the stakes are highest,” Eiermann said. “Today was a big stepping stone, but we’re not finished yet.”
—Staff writer Jessica L. Flakne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.