On a drizzly night on the Oklahoma River, Harvard men’s heavyweight crew kicked off its fall competition season with a decisive win in the qualifying race followed by an exciting victory in the night sprints grand finals.
The Crimson traveled to the Head of the Oklahoma Regatta in Oklahoma City on Saturday to compete along with more than 50 other university and club teams.
The Harvard crew was composed of eight seniors—seven rowers and coxswain David Fuller—and one junior.
“We all rowed together [on freshman crew] three years ago, so it’s nice to bring that crew back together and just race as seniors,” said James O’Connor, stroke seat of the boat.
The Crimson started the night by rowing in the collegiate eight race against 11 other crews, including boats from Oklahoma City University, Kansas State, and Wichita State.
Under rainy weather but otherwise good water conditions, Harvard easily won the race with a dominating time of 12:58.88, taking home the Norick Cup for the third time.
An OCU boat was second in the head race, finishing more than 25 seconds behind the Crimson boat.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do, which was establish a good rhythm early on in the race, and we just kept it going all the way through,” said senior Parker Washburn, sixth seat of the boat.
With its time in the men’s collegiate eight race, Harvard qualified for the grand finals later that night, where it competed in the night sprints against the top five fastest boats from the men’s eight, a stark difference from the team’s usual morning races.
“None of us had ever rowed anything like that before,” O’Connor said. “Usually we’re racing in the early morning, so it was the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It was really exciting—there’s bright lights, a crowd on the side, music playing, and a shorter distance. It was probably the most fun race I’ve ever had.”
The Crimson lined up in lane five against three OCU crews as well as two boats from the USRowing National Training Center: the US Heavyweights and the US Lightweights, both composites of current and past Olympic rowers.
“[The USRowing teams] just had the Olympics this last summer, so they’re not in the peak of their performance, by any stretch of the imagination,” said senior third-seat Josh Hicks, referring to the squad’s decreased practice time following the Olympics. “So we had no idea [whether or not we were going to win], and it’s fantastic going into a race with the attitude that you’ve got to go as hard as you can and let the cards fall where they may.”
Although one of the OCU boats and the US Lightweight crew shot out to an early lead, the Harvard boat found its stride about 250 meters into the race.
But the US Heavyweights quickly caught up to the Crimson boat, making the race a fight to the finish.
“The US Heavyweights were like a chopper jet taking off, just really slow to start,” Hicks said. “But once they got moving, once they got the waves turning, then they were eating us up, [and] they were chewing into it pretty quickly.”