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After more than two years without a loss, the Harvard men’s heavyweight crew finally met its match at the BearingPoint Rowing World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland on June 20.
All it took was a final race stacked with Athens-bound shells on the third day of a gruelling international regatta.
Rowing under the moniker “USA2,” the Crimson placed sixth in the event’s A Final—a likely preview of the medal heat at the Olympics in August—9.02 seconds behind first-place Canada.
“[We are] very satisfied,” five-seat senior Tyler Winklevoss said. “On paper, we’re not really supposed to beat them. It is pretty unheard of for a university crew to be fast enough to potentially be in the Grand Final of the Olympics.”
To qualify for the top-flight final, Harvard needed to either win its opening heat or, failing that, place in the top four in the next day’s repechage race.
A strong headwind on the regatta’s first day—combined with a dominant performance from the German national crew—scratched the possibility of taking the shorter route to the finals. The Crimson placed last in the four-boat field, well behind USA1 and just nipped at the line by the Egyptians.
Fairer winds and course conditions on day two played directly into Harvard’s hands, though, mitigating the size and strength advantage enjoyed by the national crews.
The Crimson, hindered by the slowest start of any of the competing crews at the regatta, had previously enjoyed such overwhelming superiority against its collegiate opponents that a sizeable deficit incurred in the opening 20 strokes could be erased by the 500-meter mark.
Walking back through its opponents in the six-boat repechage was not nearly as easy, but proved far more successful than the previous day’s effort.
All five opponents jumped Harvard off the start, opening leads ranging from 0.8 to 3.08 seconds through the first quarter of the race.
“We were,” senior two-seat Jordan Sagalowsky said, “consistently blown away off the line.”
The three strongest boats in the heat—USA1, Italy and Egypt—slowly extended their respective leads over the Crimson during the next 500-meter stretch. But, fueled by its proximity to the eights from France and Great Britain, Harvard launched a last-ditch bid for the final spot in the A Final, pulling to within striking distance, 0.63 seconds out of fourth place by the race’s midway point.
Twenty hard strokes at the 1000-meter mark erased another half-length from the French according to senior six-seat Cameron Winklevoss, and the subsequent increase in the base cadence from 36 to 38 strokes per minute allowed the Crimson to put a further dent into the lead.
With 500 meters to go, Harvard had moved past France and the defending Olympic gold medalists, Britain.
With the Egyptians in their sights as they fended off the British and French, the Crimson’s rowers again increased the speed of their sprint—this time to 41 strokes per minute—and powered their way to a fourth-place finish at 5:41.59, just 0.36 and 2.97 seconds behind the Egyptians and heat-winner USA1, respectively.
The French stumbled into fifth, 2.61 seconds behind the Crimson, with the British another 0.12 seconds behind.
“Beating the British and French Eights was a tremendous feeling,” Cameron Winklevoss said. “I’ve never been so happy coming in fourth in a race in my life.”
Harvard’s time of 2:51.31 over the final 1,000 meters was the fastest in the heat—0.31 seconds faster than USA1, more that 1.29 seconds faster than the rest of the field—and a welcome surprise, given the Crimson’s untested sprint.
“In college racing, we never really sprinted, just bumped it up to 37 [strokes per minute] for the last 20 strokes in our races this spring,” Tyler Winklevoss said. “In this race we found another gear, [and] there was no doubt in any of our minds that we had raced as hard as we possibly could.”
But, exhausted by two days of intense competition, Harvard could not summon a similar effort in the A Final, finishing in sixth place.
Again in last off the start, the Crimson struggled to maintain contact with the field, slowly fading as the race progressed. Less than three seconds behind the Canadians after 500 meters, Harvard fell more than six seconds over the next 1,500 meters, finishing more than nine seconds out of first.
But unlike the Crimson’s last loss—to Wisconsin at the 2002 Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges (EARC) Sprints—contentment, and not disappointment, was the overwhelming sentiment heading into this weekend’s Henley Royal Regatta.
“[I am] extremely satisfied,” Sagalowsky said. “It is my proudest achievement as a rower.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.
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