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Throughout last week, American newspapers neglected the Leander Rowing Club in their coverage of the Thames Cup at the Henley Regatta. On Saturday, Harard's lightweight crew found out about the British eight for themselves, and for the second consecutive summer, the Crimson will return from England empty-handed.
Harvard's loss to Leander was only one part of the blackest day for America in several years at Henley: seven United States entries had survived until the final two rounds last Saturday; only one, a Virginia high-school eight, won any championship that afternoon.
But for the Crimson, the loss was doubly frustrating. Undefeated and seeded first in its class at the Royal Regatta, it had thrown off a virus attack to win its first round race on Wednesday. Then, at full strength, it had demolished the Norwegian Norske Students by three lengths a day later. By Friday morning, American newspapers were eagerly awaiting a duel between Harvard and either the MIT lightweights or the Penn freshman heavies, both of whom had advanced easily, in the finals Saturday afternoon.
Friday afternoon the Crimson dumped the London Rowing Club by a length in 7:03, and both Penn and MIT advanced to the semifinals with it.
No one, save hardened English rowing enthusiasts, had paid attention to Leander even though it had taken the Thames Cup with relative ease last July. It was a mistake both Harvard and Penn were to discover later. The Britishers had quietly brushed off early-round competition and early Friday unceremoniously dumped the Isis Boat Club to gain the semifinals.
Saturday morning Leander met Harvard, and after a brief early lead, the Crimson rowed the remainder of the race from behind. Harvard stroked smoothly and hard, Leander, an experienced crew well known in England, stroked beautifully and won by two and a half lengths.
"It wasn't that Harvard failed to produce," said one observer later. "That Leander boat is damn tough, and they had a title to defend. Harvard wasn't overconfident. Maybe American rowing fans were."
Several hours later, after Penn had beaten MIT to reach the finals, Leander successfully defended that title against Penn. It defended it powerfully, driving to an early lead. It defended it fiercely, repeatedly holding off a Penn cadence that climbed from 35 to 38 to 41 in a brutal effort to make up an alarming deficit. And it defended it convincingly, mercilessly drubbing a Penn freshman boat that outweighed Leander by ten pounds per man, winning by a whopping three lengths over the mile and five-sixteenths course.
Penn's rowing program had been successful last spring. The Quakers took varsity and freshman titles at the IRA championships and had won the freshman crown at the Eastern Sprints. It is an ambitious program, designed to break the grip Harvard has had on the national title and bring it to Philadelphia. As a reward, and primarily as a final test, Penn sent their excellent varsity heavies, a good four-with-coxswain, and their undefeated freshman heavies to Henley. The experiment failed Badly.
An unheralded Yale four dumped Penn in the first round. The freshman boat was humiliated by Leander. And in the finals of the Grand Challenge Cup, Henley's premier event, the Quaker varsity found that there is not one crew that it cannot beat, but at least two. Einheit Dresden, a crack East German crew, practiced entirely on their home rivers in preparation for Henley.
The Germans came to England unseen, unknown, and Saturday afternoon beat down every challenge the mammoth Penn varsity threw at them. Penn tried a fast start, a crippling high stroke, and fierce power to try to overtake the Germans. All three methods were about the three-quarters of a length inadequate. The Grand Challenge Cup went back to East Germany, where it has been for four of the past five years.
Two other American entries similarly failed in the final round. Seattle's Bill Tytus, the best United States entry in the Diamond Sculls lost badly to East German Jorg Bohmer, and the Trinity College varsity crew, undefeated in its first year of competition, fell to A.S.R. Nereus, a fine Netherlands club, by a length.
Unlike last summer, when the Crimson lightweights competed in several European regattas in addition to their quest at Henley, the Royal Regatta will be the final race for all Harvard crews this year. The Crimson heavyweights, who smashed Penn at the Eastern Sprints, undoubtedly would have presented an extremely difficult obstacle to Einheit Dresden in the Grand Challenge Cup finals, but the Harvard boat is physically and psychologically spent from nearly three years of full-time rowing. The Crimson lights, however, wanted another crack at Henley. Now, they have had the crack.
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