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The Far Eastern sprints

Harvard lightweights head for Hong Kong

By Richard L. Callan

The Harvard lightweight crews are on their way to Hong Kong, but there may not be any Scorpion Bowls when the squads get there.

Instead twenty-six members of the lightweight varsity and freshman crews, freshman lightweight crew Coach Robert Leahey and two "officials". Baird Professor of Science Dudley R. Herschbach and his wife. Georgene--are all journeying to the Orient on an all-expense paid trip to compete in the annual Dragon Boat festival.

There, the Harvard contingent will race against almost 90 teams from across the world in specially designed dragon boats in what's become an annual ritual throughout Asia.

The seventh annual festival, to be held June 10, has its origins in the fourth century B.C. The races are held to commemorate the death of Chu Yuan, a legendary Chinese poet and patriot who cast himself into the Mi Lo River in an act of protest. The races are a re-enactment of his tragic death.

Don't be too concerned, though, because it's all for fun, and the Harvard contingent that will be making its first appearance in the event is eagerly awaiting the opportunity.

"I expect it to be a colorful, special situation--a little like going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans," says Dudley Herschbach, who with his wife will act as the group's special liaisons between Harvard and Hong Kong.

"Our role will be to cheer people on, do a lot of shaking hands and smiling and act as general representatives of the United States and Harvard University," Herschbach adds.

Invited by the Hong Kong Tourist Association. Harvard will be one of just two American boats competing in the extravaganza that includes nine championship races and 14 prelimiaries.

The actual races should be quite similar to ordinary crew meets, Leahey says, and the 640-meter course should take about three minutes to complete.

The major difference is the boats, with the dragon version 43 feet long, 5 feet wide and 22 inches high. It also carries up to 24 rowers, along with a taikong(coxswain) who beats a drum in tempo and an oarsman at the rear.

The boats all have a green dragon head, with yellow and red dotted horns at the stern, and a green tail at the bow. The rowers sit double-banked using small paddles.

In a ceremony two weeks ago, Fa Yun, a Buddhist abbot, chanted, sprinkled water on the boat and "dotted the eyes" of the dragon. Harvard Athletic Director John P. Reardon, Jr. '60 helped in the ritual, which was designed to bestow good luck and good fortune upon the Harvard dragon boat.

The Hong Kong Tourist Association, which organized the good luck sendoff, will along with the Harvard Club of Hong Kong sponsor the team in part when it arrives in Hong Kong. The two groups will provide the boat, as well as several parties.

United Air Lines is providing the transportation for the Harvard contingent, most of whom plan to stay in Hong Kong for nine days before returning home.

Reardon, however, says he's been careful to avoid problems of commercial endorsement. "It's a fine and difficult line to define what is too commercial and what is not," Reardon says, "It will be interesting to see how they react to the trip. I think it should be great fun."

It's certainly been a lot of fun so far, crew members say.

Training twice a day for the last few weeks, the crew members have had to pick up the rowing motion, which involves the entire arm in movement. Leahey says, since the crew sits on benches which do not move.

In addition, the stroke rate is much faster than a regular crew shell, which averages somewhere in the 30 strokes per minute range. In Hong Kong, the crews will average 90 strokes a minute during actual racing, though the highest they've done thus far is 76 per minute.

"It's not easy," says senior Rick Baney, who is skipping the trip in favor of today's ceremonies in Cambridge but has worked out with the 26 who will go.

"We have no idea what kind of competition we're going to get," says Greg Williams, who like everyone else in the Harvard boat has never before competed in a dragon boat.

To ensure that Harvard will become a regular partcipant in the event, the First National Bank of Boston is donating a dragon boat, which will be permanently stored in Cambridge.

The squad, however, has been practicing in a boat donated by Jordan Marsh, which had two boats made and shipped in from Hong Kong for an "Orient Express" promotion in 1980.

Leahey's just glad his squads have the chance to partcipate. "It's a morale builder for the team to partcipate in an event like this," he says, adding, "It's a change of pace and a lot of real fun. We'll be working hard and having a good time."

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