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From the finish line, Harvard's one-length sinking of Coast Guard Saturday seemed as uneventful as every other Crimson heavyweight race. "Crew is boring," complained one disappointed spectator. "Harvard always wins."
Harvard may always win, but, as was proven Saturday, not by divine right. The God of Ill Fortune hurled every obstacle short of a torrential whirlpool in the Crimson's course. Mammoth wakes, boat-stopping crabs and sweltering heat plagued the varsity eight.
A perfect start and nine strokes, Harvard was moving away from the highly-touted Cadet shell. This shock may have been too great for the young Crimson eight, some of whom were still convinced that their victory in San Diego two weeks ago over the best crews in the country was merely a fluke.
The entire starboard side (or so legend has it) crabbed and Harvard's "white whale" ground to a half. Coxwain Bruce Larson called for another complete start, at the end of which the Crimson was five seats behind Coast Guard.
Now the oarsmen, led by stroke Ollie Scholle, were rowing long and smooth, and by the 800 meter mark, they were a few seats up on the bewildered Cadets.
"Then we saw this huge wake heading for us," recalled captain and three-man Hovey Kemp Saturday afternoon. "It looked like that breaker at the beginning of "Hawaii Five-0."
A gigantic wake, the kind oarsmen stop for in practice, missed the Cadet shell but broadsided the hapless Crimson eight. By the time the heavies had wiped the water from their eyes, the Cadets had cruised by to another half-length lead.
"It was like being in a horror show," said Kemp, "but no one got scared. We remained calm and just went after them again."
At the half-way mark, Harvard had again managed to pull even with Coast Guard. With 500 to go, the Crimson had a half-length lead. Tired of playing leap frog, the heavies rowed cautious and efficaciously toward the finish.
Harvard's time, despite it all, was 5:56.5 with Coast Guard three and a half seconds back. And, oh yes, UMass piddled across the finish line after a 6:21.0 minute paddle down the Charles.
"I was pleaded and impressed with the way the crew handled the difficulties it was presented with," Harvard coach Harry Parket said Sunday. "They might very well have been beaten with all the trouble they got into."
"But the way they were rowing, I never had any doubt that they would win," continued Parker. "They were rowing very hard and extremely aggressively. Even after the second disaster, they came right back and raced hard. I was impressed, quite frankly."
But while the varsity race was a comedy of errors, the J.V. race was a near-tragedy of errors. The Crimson J.V., which trailed a strong Cadet crew throughout its race, managed to snatch a deck-length victory in the last 30 stroke.
After a bad start and much scrambling in the first 1000 meters, the J.V. heavies were six seats down on Coast Guard. The Crimson started a power-twenty at the 1000 meter mark which was designed to pull it even with the Cadet shell.
But on the sixth might power stroke, when a member of the port side caught a crab, Harvard moved backwards again. Never regaining composure, the Crimson J.V. slapped even with the Coast Guard during the next 500 meters at a dangerously high cadence of 38.
With 30 strokes to go, the windless Crimson started a valiant sprint and pulled ahead of the Cadets. On the last stroke, another Crimson J.V. caught a crab.
"We crossed the finish line sideways," stroke Dave Boghossian said Sunday. "If the race was a couple of strokes longer, we probably would have lost."
"It was horrifying to watch," Parker said of the J.V. race. "They were rowing short, very high and not well. I think it's a tribute to them that they never gave out. It was a gutsy, though not a pretty performance."
If both Harvard eights were inexperienced before Saturday's races, they could now call themselves seasoned veterans. In two gutsy races, despite tremendous obstacles, the Crimson squad proved once and for all that this may be another championship season for the Harvard crew.
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