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A crew this unfamiliar with losing will never grow accustomed to finishing any less than first. And while it would have been nice for Harvard’s first varsity eight and its seven seniors to walk away from their final race with a win, the Crimson won’t be beating itself up over a second-place finish.
Not one to the Dutch national crew anyway.
For the second time in as many regattas, Harvard crossed the finish line within striking distance of a shell with medal hopes at the upcoming Olympic games, taking runner-up honors in the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames River in London on July 4.
Had the varsity eight won the competition—the most prestigious at the regatta—it would have been the first Harvard crew since 1985 to win Eastern Sprints, the national championship, against Yale and the Grand Challenge Cup.
“In ’85 they actually just raced Princeton in the Grand Final,” senior eight-seat Kip McDaniel joked. “If only we had been so lucky.”
Despite the difficult draw, the Crimson more than held its own against the Dutch, improving upon its performance at the BearingPoint World Cup regatta last month in Lucerne, Switzerland.
“I would love to have continued racing [national crews],” McDaniel said. “We were getting faster and were just having a ball being the upstarts who were taking down a whole country’s rowing program—like France and Britain [at the World Cup.]”
Though the Dutch jumped the Crimson off the start, Harvard established the momentum over the majority of the course, forcing the Athens-bound crew to play defense throughout.
"The Dutch got up early and were able to wake us down a bit," senior two-seat Jordan Sagalowsky said. "We spent the whole race chasing extremely hard and fighting not to give up more ground."
The Dutch coxswain, looking to disrupt the Crimson’s momentum and create an uneven surface, steered his rowers into Harvard’s lane on more than occasion, each time prompting a warning from race officials.
The Crimson still made inroads, though, erasing seconds off the Dutch lead during the second half of the race.
Harvard launched its sprint, a newly-discovered strength during the World Cup, 650 meters out, but was unable to close the gap entirely, losing by two thirds of a length.
“We were moving back on them in the last 500 and were making a race of it, although I think they knew they had it,” McDaniel said. “They were spent at the end, as were we, and thus I think we both rowed to our peak, and they were the better crew.”
One day earlier, the Crimson bested its nominal transatlantic rival, crossing the line with a third-of-a-length victory over Cambridge University.
The two sides did not enter their heat on equal footing. Unlike Harvard, Cambridge’s rowers are drawn from the larger university, and not just the college. As a result, former Crimson members donned Cambridge colors and rowed against their alma mater.
“Three of the Cantabs had rowed at Harvard,” McDaniel said. “Their captain had been our captain in 2002 and had made some comments early that a good boat race crew was better then a good college crew. We wanted to prove him wrong, and I think we did.”
Exploiting the Crimson’s year-long weakness, Cambridge seized the lead off the start. But Harvard, true to form, regained the lead before building a one length lead by the midway point despite several attempted moves by its opponents and a scaled-back effort.
"Twice Cambridge seemed to work extremely hard to take back a seat or two," Sagalowsky said. "These were very exhausting and unsuccessful moves for them, however, and our lead was never threatened."
The Crimson elevated its base cadence in the race’s final strokes but never fully sprinted. The tactic was more than sufficient in holding off the older Cambridge crew while still conserving energy for the following day’s final.
“They had very strong moves, and we had to work hard to counter these,” McDaniel said. “But it worked. And with 30 strokes to go, we knew we had won.”
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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