Any doubts of whether this year's Harvard heavyweight crew deserves membership in the pantheon of great Harvard crews vanished Saturday when the undefeated varsity bolted past Princeton and MIT for its 17th straight Compton Cup and a new Charles River record.
The Crimson finished the 2000-meter course in 5:44.8, more than two lengths ahead of Princeton, at 5:53.3, and MIT, at 5:56.7. The time shattered the record of 5:48.2, which was established by Pennsylvania in 1977.
"They had a nice race," coach Harry Parker understated after the race, adding, "I don't know that I'd use the term pride, but they have a strong bond for each other."
Six of the nine men on the varsity rowed together in 1976 on the second freshmen boat ever to win the Thames Challenge in England's Henley Regatta. This cohesive unit, now seniors, represents the bulk of the eight now rated as a favorite to take the 1979 national championship.
Do or Die
"We talked about setting a record this morning, but we wanted to think about winning. This was our last home race, so it was now or never," senior six seat Warren Perkins said Saturday.
Sophomore three seat Jay Smith added, "Before the race we were expecting really tough conditions, but when we saw how perfect it was, we knew we had to go for it."
And the conditions were indeed ideal--a few inoffensive waves disturbed the tranquil Charles, and just a hint of a tail wind aided the oarsmen.
MIT coach Peter Holland, who was at the 1975 Compton Cup race watching that season's legendary national champion Crimson heavyweight eight, said yesterday, "This has got to be one of Harvard's best crews."
Crimson oarsmen had worried that either the Tigers or Engineers, both fast starters, might gain a quick edge, but instead, Harvard opened a nearly insurmountable lead in the first 500 meters.
"Our start wasn't really great. At 20 meters we had maybe a seat lead, but I guess we really took it out," Gordie Gardiner, senior captain and stroke, said after the race.
"It didn't seem like that fast," Gardiner said of setting the record. "I couldn't believe it."
Coxswain Harry You explained the squad's deceptive speed: "If it's as smooth as we're going and it doesn't feel so tough, that's an indication that you're moving."
After moving out quickly to a length-and-a-half lead with a 36 stroke-per-minute cadence, the crew settled at 34, then finished with a burst to seal the two-and-a-quarter-length win and the record.
The Yale crew, which some observers rank as a co-favorite with Harvard for the 1979 rowing title, helped to justify that presumption Saturday with an over-whelming defeat of Penn. The Elis rowed the Connecticut River course in 5:54.0 to the Quakers' 6:07.5, a surprisingly large margin, as Penn seemed a more formidable rival.
The Crimson can measure itself against Yale when the oarsmen face Penn next Saturday in the Adams Cup in Philadelphia, Pa. Navy, which defeated Harvard last year, will also race.
The confrontation with Yale comes May 13 in the Eastern Sprints in Worcester, Mass., a race that will resolve the competing claims between the undefeated oarsmen.
In other heavyweight action on the Charles, the undefeated freshmen and junior varsity boats both triumphed. Ted Washburn's frosh, led by stroke Paul Jeffrey, breezed to a 7.6-sec. win over Princeton and MIT; and the J.V. nipped the Tigers by a second-and-a-half.