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Once, it was essentially an emotional head-on clash between Harvard and Pennsylvania. Two superlative crews, two radically different rowing philosophies. Now, with the re-emergence of Navy as a powerful challenger, it has become a three-way dogfight among the East's finest boats.
This is the Adams Cup regatta, and for the first time since 1954 three unbeaten crews will meet tomorrow on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia to battle not only for the 152-year old silver trophy, but for the top seed at the Eastern Sprint championships a week from now.
Navy, the keeper of the Cup. A young crew, composed of four juniors, four sophomores and stroked by powerful Chuck Munns, an Iowa boy who never rowed until he came to Annapolis. Victor over St. Joseph's, Princeton, Yale, Cornell and Syracuse.
Harvard, a narrow favorite for the eighth consecutive year. Five veterans back from last year, four of them seniors. No one has come closer than two lengths to them all spring.
Penn, dethroned by Navy last year after two years as champion. Another young crew, with only two seniors, and stroked by sophomore Walt Updegrave. A dangerous underdog, rowing on its home course.
Each of the three coaches involved--Penn's Ted Nash, Navy's Carl Ullrich and Harvard's Harry Parker--would prefer not having his boat selected as the favorite, and with good reason. Only once in the last four years has the favored crew won the Cup. In fact, last May the Navy eight that edged Harvard by half a length was the least seriously regarded of any of the three entrants.
But if comparative races against mutual opponents mean anything Ullrich and Nash feel they do, Parker disagreed, the Crimson will go to the stake boats a slight choice to win the race for the 19th time since 1933.
All three eights have raced Princeton this spring. Navy dumped the Tigers by 2 1/2 lengths on the Seven River in early April. Penn edged them by half a length a week later in the Childs Cup race, and Harvard left Princeton four and a half lengths astern last Saturday on the Charles. On that basis, Nash, Ullrich and Princeton coach Pete Sparhawk have chosen the Crimson as the crew to beat.
In several respects, the circumstances surrounding tomorrow's race are similar to the situation last year. Navy, which lost to Princeton in its opener last May before winning the Adams Cup, had an uncomfortably close race with Cornell last weekend at the Goes Cup regatta at Ithaca.
The Big Red, rowing its first race since winning the IRA championship last June, actually led Navy after 500 meters, and came within a quarter of a length of winning. It was not the most impressive margin of victory that could have been desired, but then, the Midshipmen have customarily stroked only as hard as they had to to win this season.
Penn, going into the race unbeaten for the seventh consecutive year, is again rebuilding a boat damaged by graduation. Where the Quakers once peaked for the Adams Cup, they now tend to mature later in the season, since they must compete in two cup races between the Sprints and the IRA. Again this spring, it may be a little early for the Quakers to put it all together.
And as for Harvard, though the circumstances are the same--an undefeated boat, slightly favored tomorrow--the same results would be a deep disappointment. Over the last eight years, the Crimson has won the Cup five times, but all of the victories were prior to 1968, when Penn snapped Harvard's 34-race unbeaten skein.
The crucial factor tomorrow may well be the tricky Schuylkill River course, which features a natural dogleg. The stake boats are staggered, forcing one of the crews to start behind both of the others, thereby creating a subtle psychological disadvantage. Additionally, the lane system is deceptive.
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