Eighty-six years ago, in May 1899, the president of Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England extended a unique invitation to the Harvard track program.
In part, that invitation challenged "selected representatives of your university to unite with selected representatives of Yale University Club in forming a joint team to compete in track athletics against a joint team . . . from the athletic clubs of Oxford and Cambridge universities."
The English squad won that first meet, 5-4, back in 1899, but since then times have changed.
Meets have been held regularly, every other year, since 1921, with the site alternating from one side of the Atlantic to the other.
The American contingent had won 17 of the 29 previous contests--with a winning streak of nine dating back to 1965--and didn't let up a bit yesterday.
The Harvard and Yale men won 11 of 19 events, while the women triumphed in all but two of 15 events, to give the home-country heroes an overall 24-10 victory.
Keeping scoring simple, each side received one point for every first-place finish.
Despite the serious nature of the athletic competition, however, most of the participants view the international meet less as a rematch of the Revolutionary War than as a chance to mingle with new friends.
"It's a nice atmosphere," said Cambridge high-jumper and javelin thrower Margaret Worrall. "Everyone here is really friendly."
"We'll beat them tonight," Oxford's javelin thrower Alison Trianor added gamely, alluding to a contest of alchoholic rather than athletic endurance.
The meet itself was slightly harder to initiate than the social interaction. After a 45-minute delay, it finally got under way at 2:45 p.m., but with the opening event--the men's 10,000 meter run--cancelled.
Harvard Coach Frank Haggerty said that it would be "suicidal" for Oxford and Cambridge to run too many long-distances, because of the limited endurance of those squad's few distance runners, and its heavy schedule while in America.
The English thinclads have yet to face Cornell, Penn, Dartmouth and Brown--all before they depart for their homeland on April 20.
"It feels like we've been here forever, even though we just got off the plane," Cambridge 3000-meter runner Liz Hand noted.
Despite the slow start, however, the meet flowed on without any major hitches--and five new meet records were set along the way.