WORCESTER--The Harvard crews had been thinking about the Eastern Sprints for a long time. At first, this does not seem unusual--most teams anticipate the big games on their schedule way in advance.
With crew, however, thinking about the championship can be as important as actually racing in it. For the most part, a crew race takes place in the mind. When a team comes away from a Regatta with both heavyweight and lightweight varsity victories--as Harvard did yesterday--it is more a demonstration of mental toughness than physical stamina.
"It's all mental preparation," Varsity heavyweight coxswain Jim Crick said. "You don't want to just get physically pumped up before the race and start running on adrenaline." Only through an entire season of successful pre-race mental training is a team able to give what it takes to win the Sprints, Crick said.
Varsity lacrosse player Dean Graham learned the importance of crew's brand of pre-game mental preparation when he went by the Harvard tent to give the team a pre-game pep-talk. "Hey dudes, get psyched and let's go kick some butt out there today," he said.
This kind of approach might have worked before a lacrosse game. But it didn't impress the Harvard rowers, who answered his exhortation with serious stares.
Because of a two-and-a-half hour delay due to strong cross winds yesterday, there was the threat that the "mental timing" of the crews would be thrown off.
The crews spent the entire prefinals delay thinking about each meter of their upcoming 2000-meter race.
"The hardest part of the whole race," varsity lightweight Sam Shuffler commented, "was waiting two hours and to keep visualizing the whole time what it was going to feel like to win."
Thinking about the race is sometimes harder than rowing it. But it's a part of the race that can't be dismissed.
"Even if I didn't want to think about it, I couldn't," Crick said.
And the thinking does not stop when the gun goes off. It is a never-ending process.
During the race, the coxswain will describe certain scenarios for his rowers to visualize. For instance, a coxswain will tell his crew to picture an opposing stroke being run over and put in the hospital.
Even after the race, the rowers continue to think rowing thoughts. The winning and losing rowers will discuss the race in great detail long after the boats have crossed the finish line. In most sports, a losing player will shake some hands and forget about the outcome. But even losing rowers can't stop thinking about the race.
No matter how much mental training has gone into the competition, however, one part of the race is impossible to prepare for mentally--victory.
"I visualized winning this 1000 times," varsity heavyweight stroke John Amory said. "I imagined feeling happy, but it doesn't come close to how I feel now."