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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Crew Coasts to 4th Straight Sprint Crown

By Thomas B. Reston

When the shells came into view at the Eastern Sprints in Worcester Saturday, everyone saw what they expected to see. There was one Crimson-shirted eight in lonely splendor -- and then there were five other boats somewhere in the background.

Harvard's heavyweight varsity had retained its title by almost a length of open water. In its wake came Penn, Northeastern, Cornell, Yale and B.U., in that order. Harvard's time over the 2000-meter course on Lake Quinsigamond was 6:06.2.

The Crimson also took the freshman heavyweight and junior varsity lightweight titles.

The Harvard varsity was off the starting line at 43 beats per minute, and soon after Penn and Harvard were a half-length out on the rest of the field. Both crews went down to 35, and Penn hung on within reaching distance for a short while.

The Crimson settled to 33 with Penn still at 35. By the 1000-meter mark, open water separated the crews, and Harvard swept on. A last-minute surge by the much-touted Northeastern varsity almost caught Pennsylvania, but fell short by two seats.

A fourth-place finish for the Crimson lightweight varsity was a stunning disappointment. Cornell started well and took a three-seat lead almost immediately. Rowing the body of the race at 35, Harvard was expecting to close the gap. Cornell settled to 33 for the first 500 meters, and then went up one.

When the Crimson attempted to challenge in a serious way, the lead could not be narrowed. The Big Red held.

Penn and Princeton, while they stayed with the other two crews, did not make a serious push until just before the 1000-meter mark. By 500-meters-to-go, the race had spread out a bit: Cornell by a length over Pennsylvania, and almost even with Princeton, which held a half-length over Harvard.

The Tigers' final margin over Harvard was a little less than a deck-length. Columbia was fifth, and Navy, with a broken rigger and without its number seven man, finished 10 lengths back.

The Pennsylvania freshman heavyweight boat made a very big strategic gamble in its race with Harvard, a gamble which ended with a tragic mishap. Off the line at 45-plus, Penn almost immediately grabbed a half-length lead over the 42-stroking Crimson.

Penn Unsettled

Harvard settled to a 36 after its start, but was not out of the race by any means, for Penn never really settled its stroke at all. At the 1000 meter mark, Penn was up at 39. Harvard, back by four seats and stroking a smooth 34, was moving closer.

As the boats approached the belt of empty beer cans which littered the Jake at 500 meters to go, the number two man in the Penn shell caught a crab which flipped him out of the boat.

This happens very rarely in the sport. The blade is inserted in the water at an angle, knifes very deep, and the handle driven by the momentum of the boat smashed the oarsman underneath the rib cage, catapulting him out.

The Harvard freshman coxswain, Chris Hallowell, maintains his men held a one or two seat lead on the Red and Blue at this point in the race. The Penn boat, of course, stopped dead. Rutgers finished second, a length and a half back.

The Crimson junior varsity lightweights, expected to win easily, led all the way down the course. Stroking at 34, they crossed the finish line with open water separating them from the next three crews, which all finished within four-tenths of a second of each other. Penn was second, followed by M.I.T. and Cornell.

Junior Heavyweights

The junior varsity heavyweight race was clearly dominated by a powerful Pennsylvania boat. Harvard, Yale, and Navy struggled for second place, but at 500 meters to go, the Elis had established the half-length margin which they sustained until the finish line. Navy finished two seats behind the Crimson.

The lightweight freshman contest was a three-way struggle between Pennsylvania, Cornell and Harvard, tightly bunched straight down the course.

The Crimson rowed the race very low, at 32, while Penn maintained a cadence of 36-37. Cornell also stroked at 32. At 1000 meters it was Penn by three seats over Harvard. The sprint began. Cornell up to 35, and the Crimson finally mustering a closing 38. It was not enough to narrow the three-quarters length gap that separated Harvard from the winning Quakers, but it was almost enough to catch Cornell, which finished two seats ahead to place second.

A teeming crowd, estimated at 20,000 and dotted by loud clusters of drunken jollifiers, blanked the hillsides to watch the afternoon regatta on Lake Quinsigamond at Worcester.

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