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Close to 300,000 spectators will descend on Cambridge starting today, as students and University officials prepare for the 39th annual Head of the Charles Regatta.
Seven thousand rowers from around the world will compete in 21 events over the course of one of the most festive and crowded weekends of the year.
The massive crowds force Harvard to take extra security precautions, including a beefed up police presence.
“The same measures that have been in effect the last several years will be in effect this year,” said Harvard University Police Department spokesperson Steven G. Catalano.
Entrances to every undergraduate house and Harvard Yard itself will have guards checking for valid Harvard identification, allowing only those affiliated with Harvard and their registered guests access to Harvard facilities. The College does not allow parties in students’ rooms during the weekend.
The crowds are a mixed blessing, students said yesterday.
“It’s pretty exhilarating from an athlete’s perspective,” said women’s heavyweight co-captain Lis Lambert ’04. “We get an extra kick of adrenaline, seeing so many fans at a rowing event.”
But Evan M. Schwartz ’05 said he worries that the teeming masses will interfere with his weekend plans.
“It’s unfortunate because it prevents us from having a really good time,” Schwartz said of the restrictions imposed for the weekend.
The actual races begin early Saturday afternoon, with both qualifying and single heat events scheduled. The Regatta has been a two-day affair since 1996 when high winds spoiled what was then a one-day showdown in 1999.
The highlights of both days are usually at the end of the afternoon, as the Championship Singles races for men and women close out Saturday’s events, and the Championship Eights, featuring national teams from around the globe, are the last scheduled events on Sunday.
The men’s field for Championship Singles is loaded with American talent as Michael Perry and local favorite Kent Smack, who both have World Championship experience, will look to upset top international rowers on home turf.
Their main international rival will be Estonia’s Juri Jaansen, a sculler who once held the world record for 2000 meters.
On the women’s side, Bulgarian powerhouse and defending champion Rumyana Neykova headlines a solid field. Last year, Neykova decimated the competition with a 55-second victory, but this year Kristin Goodrich and Boston College’s Cindy Bishop look to give Neykova a tougher challenge.
The races start at noon on Saturday and will run until just after 4 p.m. on Sunday.
Last year’s event saw a pair of freak accidents disrupt an otherwise routine regatta. One man was sent to the hospital when eight-person shell hit him, penetrating his torso. In another incident, in 1996, boats from George Washington University and Brown University collided at full speed.
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