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It had to happen sometime...
With everything else going wrong for Harvard this year, Crimson, sports fans in the past two weeks have been able to take a little solace in the fact that the varsity heavyweight crew was still the "best in the East." It was something that restored a little sanity to the strife (or strike)-torn Harvard scene.
But no longer...
Penn finally beat Harvard. The unpeaceful Quakers put it all together and romped to a length and a half victory over the heavies last Saturday on the wind-blown Schuylkill River. Navy came in third in the 2000-meter Adams Cup Race (a contest Harvard hadn't lost in the last five years).
It is the first time since 1963 that Harvard has lost to another college crew. The loss broke the victory streak that extended through 34 consecutive starts against collegiate competition.
Not Just an Upset
What hurts so much is the way it all happened. If the race had been close, then it might have been the "upset" that some expected. And if that was the case, then Penn ws only gaining a revenge that it has been brooding after since Harvard edged the Quakers by four inches in last summer's Olympic Trials.
But Penn won by a shocking length and a half, and what happened raises the question of Harvard's chances in the Eastern Sprints this Saturday in Worcester.
For once, Harvard had started a race behind, and the Crimson, playing an unfamiliar role, just couldn't catch up.
By the luck of the draw, Penn got the up-front position in the staggered start. At the gun, the Quakers came off at 39 strokes per minute to take a two seat lead in the first five pulls. The much higher-stroking Crimson got away at about 45.
It was close for the first 600 meters. Rowing at 37, Harvard managed to stay within a half a length of Penn, which had settled to a 351/2. Both boats found it rough going as they had to battle a 16-18 knot headwind which had sent water over the gunnals in the earlier freshman and J.V. races.
As the crews approached the first bridge, both shells veered out of their lanes towards each other. With the referee calling Penn over to port twice and then twice telling Harvard to go starboard, both coxes fought to regain their original positions.
Quick Quaker Recovery
The Quakers managed to recover more quickly and retained their half length advantage to the 1000-meter mark. Harvard was unable to regain full balance, and never pressed the powerful Penn boat after that. The Quakers moved about a length in front during the next 500 meters.
At the 1500 meter pole, Harvard upped the stroke to 38 in an effort to close the widening distance between the two boats, Penn was too far in front, however, and only had to mount a token sprint at 38 over the last 100 meters to clinch the win.
So has the outcome of the Eastern Sprints already been settled? The Adams Cup race was supposed to be a true indication of what will happen in Worcester. But there are a number of considerations that have to be kept in mind concerning the performance of both Harvard and Penn, before one builds Penn into the next Eastern Champion or consigns Harvard to the proverbial watery grave.
Most important is the fact that Lake Quinsigamond should be quite calm compared to the choppy Schuylkill. Both coxes had to struggle to keep their boats off a collision course. Harvard's oars kept slapping the foot-high waves, and this up- set the balance essential to a top performance.
If the water is calmer, both crews will have a better opportunity to show their true form.
Also, Harvard stroked too high too early in the race. Because the water was so rough, the Crimson crew was noticeably tired after the first 500 meters. And once it was behind, Harvard couldn't afford to cut the pace. The lower-stroking Penn boat was able to conserve enough to easily counter Harvard's tired sprint at the end.
Finally, the Crimson went into the race too confident that Penn's sophomore rowers would crack under the strain of a tight contest. "We felt that if we could keep it close until the final sprint," Harvard cox Tom tiffany said, "then they would rattle."
But the opposite happened as Harvard was the crew to lose its poise and row poorly in the later part of the race.
Whether or not Penn will build a new Eastern rowing "dynasty" will be decided this Saturday--hopefully under racing conditions much more suitable for testing the real quality of a boat.
Harvard no longer has the pressure of preserving a six-year win streak, and has everything to gain by beating Penn in the Sprints. Penn, on the other hand, must resist the over-confidence that comes with being rated Number One.
But Harvard will have to work extremely hard this week to overcome the problems that plagued it in Philadelphia. It must also remember that Penn will not have to fight poor weather in Worcester, either.
"We may topple their dynasty this Saturday," Tiffany said, "but it will take our best race to do it."
That may just be what it will take..
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