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The Harvard Stroke.


In the March Outing appears the first of a series of papers on "The Evolution of Form in College Rowing," written by Mr. E. M. Garnett. The subject of the first paper is "The Harvard Stroke." In it the various changes which the Harvard stroke has undergone during the past five years are carefully described. The article explains fully the reason for Harvard's ill success since 1885 and so is very interesting. We quote a part of the article criticizing the '88 stroke and comparing it with that rowed in '85.

"In 1885, as we have seen, there was a revolution in rowing at Harvard. It was not until the early part of winter that Mr. Storrow, in the face of a certain amount of passive opposition, took the rather daring step, by engaging Mr. Faulkner as coach, of throwing overboard all those principles which, it is supposed, had won Harvard many a splendid victory. An entirely new system of rowing was inaugurated, and there was much grumbling and dubious head-shaking at the issue. Yale, on the contrary, was highly elated at Harvard's adoption of the "professional" stroke. Her crew, be it said, was deemed so strong as to earn the appellation of the "Yale giants," while Harvard's was not only unusually light, but, with two exceptions, was composed of men who had never before sat in a 'varsity boat. Save with the brave and meager minority who believed in the new regime, up to a week before the race Yale's success was a foregone conclusion. The race, as one disappointed wearer of the blue expressed it, was a "procession." Yale, vulgarly speaking, carried the bucket. Harvard jumped into the lead the moment her oars struck the water, and though averaging about thirty-four strokes to the minute after the first spurt, to her opponent's thirty-seven, increased her lead at every stroke. On the last mile there were twenty-five boat lengths between the two crews. Harvard's rowing was remarked upon, though little understood, by all who saw the race. So little effort was apparent in her style, that the uninitiated were at a loss to account for the speed of her boat. While it was manifest that the "Yale giants" were not as well trained as the Harvard men, it was palpable to the merest tyro that the immense distance between the two crews was due to causes other than the physical condition of the rowers. Although, be it remembered, Yale had improved somewhat upon the English stroke, yet the laborious wastefulness of her style was in sharp contrast to the ease and dash of the Harvard stroke.

"The moment Harvard's blades gripped the water every man in the boat, with a spring from the stretcher, and simultaneous heave of the shoulders, threw his whole weight into the oar, and kept it there until the stroke was finished. The blades were covered throughout the stroke and remained in the air as short a time as was consistent with the avoidance of "rushing" the slides. There was hardly the slightest perceptible "hang" of shoulders or hands at either end of the stroke. Although the body work was not all that could be desired, the "watermanship" or action of the blades was as smooth as the stroke of a piston-rod.

"In 1888, a committee of four graduates, only one of whom had rowed in recent years, was appointed to take charge of boating matters. Naturally enough they strove to inculcate in the crew those principles with which they were most familiar, viz., those which pertained to the English or Bancroft system of rowing. Despite the fact that the method introduced by Storrow had brought about the over-whelming defeat of the Yale giants in '85, despite the manifest adoption by Yale of the essential feature of this method, and her consequent successes and despite the marked improvement in the speed of the boat since '85, the crew of '88, we are told, endeavored to "unlearn the radically wrong principles" of the three previous years. The endeavor was pre-eminently successful, and what was the result? A crushing defeat, such as had never been seen upon the Thames. At one time in the race there was almost half a mile between the two crews. Yale, naturally enough, retained the principles, the efficacy of which she had tested, and gave even a better exhibition of rowing than the Harvard crew of '85."

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