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Add one more bizarre chapter to the book on the annual running of the Adams Cup race.
Saturday on the Schulykill River in Philadelphia, the Harvard heavyweight crew caught a boat-jarring crab with a four-seat lead in the last 100 meters that brought the varsity eight to a screeching halt and allowed the Penn and Navy boats to pass it. The Crimson then paddled across the finish line a distant 40 seconds behind the Quakers.
Despite the disappointing defeat, the Crimson remained optimistic about this season's prospects.
"We know how fast we are," coxswain Travis Metz said. "We know now that we can match beats with them. This will give us one more reason to look forward to Sprints."
Visiting crews to Philadelphia know the Schulykill course to be a challenging one. The bend in the race course forces the officials to use a staggered start that does not allow the eights to know exactly where they stand until after they come out of the turn at the 1000-meter mark. That can make for exciting psychological battles between coxswains and crews while they attempt to gauge their positions.
However, when the crews came out of the turn Saturday, there was little disputing who was in control of the race. The Crimson had opened an eight-seat lead by the 1000-meter mark after a solid start and the second-place Quaker eight was forced to reveal its hand.
The Quaker crew saw that it had to make its move on the top-ranked Harvard. Penn upped the cadence very early to a scorching 40 strokes-per-minute at the 1100-meter mark and began to reel in the Crimson.
Sprinting that early in a race is not without its costs. Harvard held off the premature Quaker charge and with 500 meters to go was ready to start its own sprint. Generally, when a crew makes a move and fails to catch the lead eight, the trailing crew cannot muster enough strength to make a second charge and fades.
With the lead whittled to only four seats, the Crimson began to move out again and established what looked to be a comfortable margin for victory. Unfortunately, with 15 strokes to go in the race, sophomore Peter Morgan's blade flicked into the water and caught the crab that resulted in the sudden slow down.
While the Crimson tried to recover, both Penn and Navy rowed past and Metz seeing that the race was effectively over, ordered the crew to paddle across the finish line.
"Anybody who knows the sport knows that it can happen to anyone," Metz explained. "It doesn't hurt us that badly. We rowed aggressively and Penn knows that we'll be right there at the Sprints. Peter shouldn't be discouraged, we need him to go fast."
The noisy Philadelphia crowd, anxious to see the battle between the top two-rated eights in the East, witnessed an Adams Cup finish fitting of the legend behind the race. Two years ago in Annapolis, high winds and whitecaps resulted in the Quakers' defeat of a heavily-favored Harvard boat. Last year in Cambridge, the Crimson was down by more than one length with 1000 meters to go, charged back and beat the Quaker crew by a bow ball at the finish.
This year in Philadelphia, rowing fans were treated to another exciting race that will be debated until the rematch in three weeks at Worcester. If things go as they did last year, a sole freak loss will be forgotten as the Crimson steam on to the national title. Next week, the Crimson take on Northeastern on the Charles in a rematch of Harvard's only defeat last year.
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