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The Harvard lightweight crew suffered adversity this year in its dual loss to Navy and a fourth-place finish at Eastern Sprints. Nevertheless, this season ended like every other odd year since 1991—with the Crimson on top.
Harvard continued its bizarre streak on Saturday by winning the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championship regatta on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
“It is kinda funny, but when it comes down to it, we just wanted to win,” captain Nick Blannin said. “It is known around the league that it’s been an odd trend.”
The Crimson posted a time of 5:54.94 in the Grand Final, two seconds ahead of its nearest competitor, Columbia. Princeton followed in third (6:06.29) and Navy, who beat Harvard in dual competition earlier this season, pulled in for fourth place (6:07.04).
The lightweights’ very presence in the final was enough to clinch the Ten Eyck Cup for the Harvard and Radcliffe crews for scoring the most points in the regatta.
The Crimson had seen four of the five boats in the final—Columbia, Georgetown, Cornell and Princeton—and the fifth, Delaware, did not pose a challenge as the Fighting Blue Hens pulled in 14 seconds after Harvard.
The Crimson varsity boat fell back a couple seats off the start, but pulled ahead by the 500-meter mark. Knowing of the Lions’ fast sprint at the finish, Harvard did not just sit on its lead.
“I saw that we were up 500 meters into the race and I just told the guys that we were up and that we just had to keep pushing it because Columbia is really strong in the last 500 [meters] of the race,” senior coxswain Jessie Tisch said.
Utilizing a strong middle 1000 meters, the Crimson extended its advantage to a boat’s length. The Lions made their notorious push at the end, but only managed to take a seat before Harvard responded to extend its margin back to open water.
“We’ve been a really good crew at being able to grind away and set a pace that our opponents can’t hang with,” Blannin said.
Upon crossing the finish line, there was no doubt that the Crimson boat was the champion after controlling the course of the race.
“[Our reaction] wasn’t one of disbelief—everyone in the boat knew we could do it,” Blannin said. “It was more a reaction of relief that we finally showed everyone the speed that we knew that we had. We’re just happy that we got a chance to set the record straight.”
That Harvard had not medaled at Sprints had been particularly bitter given the unequal racing conditions imposed on half of the lanes due to a windstorm, and the desire to rectify the Eastern results fueled the Crimson during the ensuing weeks of practice.
“I felt very cheated after Sprints,” Tisch said. “We didn’t have a terrible race, but we knew that we should have gotten better than fourth place at Sprints. I think the guys and certainly I really wanted to go out and show everyone that Sprints was a fluke.”
“It helped that we weren’t working against a wind that not everyone was working against,” Blannin said. “We felt that we put on a lot of speed through training in between the two races and we came together as a boat.”
Harvard qualified for the Grand Final after winning its preliminary heat on Friday, beating runner-up Georgetown by two and a half seconds. The boats had to restart the heat after Penn suffered mechanical difficulty, but the false start may have served to ease tension for the Crimson rowers.
“That kind of got some jitters out of people in our boat,” Blannin said.
This was the first year that the Harvard heavyweights competed in IRAs since the regatta began deciding the national champion in 1995. Due to impending thunderstorms, Saturday’s races were moved from the afternoon to the morning, creating a setting where the heavyweights won the national title hours before the lightweights even raced.
“[The time after the heavyweight final] was like the best hour of my life,” Tisch said. “I definitely made a call for a dual championship during the race which really got the boat going.”
The heavyweights’ presence also promoted a strong atmosphere of team spirit.
“When we came to about the [300-meter] mark, I could hear this ridiculous roar—it was so different from before,” junior Alex Binkley said. “We’ve always gone down and it’s been us with our one trailer with three boats in it—our boat, a freshman boat and a JV boat—and the girls. To have two trailers of boats and everybody down there...We showed up and everybody else was already there. It gave us something to look forward to, showing up and there actually being a team down there.”
Next up on the Crimson schedule is the Henley Royal Regatta in Henley-on-Thames, England, providing that the boats’ lineup and funding hold. The Harvard lightweights competed in the Temple Cup in 2001, when the crew last won the national title, as per its truly odd streak.
“The first line of the program at Sprints was ‘Odds are, Harvard will win.’ Not results, not seeding, not that anybody could win—because it’s an odd year, Harvard’s in there,” Binkley said. “There’s a jinx if you’ve ever seen one.”
Even or odd year aside, the rowers don’t let the 12-year streak impact their mindset. Although implications do not fall in Harvard’s favor next year, all the varsity rowers aside from Blannin and Tisch will be back.
“Now we just have to break it next year,” Binkley said.
—Staff writer Jessica T. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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