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Up From the Ashes in Worcester: A Lightweight 'Phoenix'

The Director's chair

By Mark D. Director, Special to The Crimson

WORCESTER--By noon on Saturday April 19, the bells had tolled for the passing of Harvard's varsity lightweight crew. In two weeks, Peter Raymond's premiere boat had lost twice, violating the rule mandating that Crimson lightweight crews lose only once every millenium.

But like an ancient mythical bird, this varsity eight rose from its own ashes to fly once again. And yesterday afternoon, as the sun broke through the overcast skies of Worcester following the varsity's decisive win in the 35th annual EARC Springs. cox Greg Soghikian recognized his eight's similarity to that ancient bird.

"This boat will be named 'The Phoenix,'" he said. The rebirth was complete.

Following consecutive losses to Cornell and MIT, Harvard's varsity was desperate. After the second defeat, Raymond changed the seating in his top boat, switching the three and four men with the seven and eight seaters.

However, Raymond said yesterday that the biggest change was one of attitude, one the varsity made on its own: "The Tuesday after the MIT race, the guys just decided to start really rowing. What's impressed me is how much of the work they've done on their own."

"Before the Princeton-Yale race I never talked to the crew. I just asked them if they were ready and they said they were," Raymond explained. In that race, last Saturday, the Crimson evened its record at 2-2 by holding off tough Eli and Tiger crews.

Those wins brought the varsity to the Sprints armed with a good shot at winning the Wright Trophy to complete the rebirth and avenge last year's loss to Yale. High winds and choppy waters made Harvard feel right at home, as if it were rowing on the always savage Charles River.

"Anything that makes a race longer is an advantage to our boat. It runs a lot more on power than on finesse," Soghikian said.

After the soberingly fast finish of the Tiger eight the previous week in New Jersey. Harvard had been working on its closing sprint, preparing for a late charge from any one of four powerful rivals in the Sprints. But such a stretch-run never materialized: to everyone's amazement it was Harvard from start to finish.

"I like racing that way. It's a lot easier on the heart," Soghikian quipped after the race.

The ease with which "The Phoenix" achieved its rebirth was both satisfying and shocking. Three seat Pasha Lakhdir typified the satisfaction: "You only get three shots at the Sprints during your career--not counting freshman year--and if you win it just once it's great... I love it."

And six-seat Gene Sykes expressed some of the shock: "We'd worked all week on strategy, but we never figured we'd walk by'em. We never worked on that contingency."

But Sykes was also overjoyed: "Three weeks ago I wondered why I'd ever [rowed crew] for four years. But now... will, it's just something that I've worked for for a long time."

Bow man Mark Worrell seconded the satisfaction: "It just was a great way to end my career."

Reveling in the triumph of a team he had believed in from the start, lightweight captain and varsity stroke Kevin Gaut chuckled over the suggestion that "The Phoenix" had indeed risen once again.

"I knew all along we had the people to do it," he said. Sunday's rebirth at Worcester proved Gaut right.

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