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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Hometown Leander Tops Harvard's JV

By Timothy J. Mcginn, Crimson Staff Writer

Apparently Leander Club is Queen’s English for British Under-23 National Crew.

Harvard’s second varsity eight, facing the prestigious feeder program for England’s national crew on its home waters, fell just short of a two-length comeback, taking second in the Henley Royal Regatta’s Ladies’ Challenge Plate on July 4.

Despite its name, the Challenge Plate is the second-most prestigious race in the regatta, featuring the world’s top collegiate varsity crews.

But thanks to the Crimson’s depth, the second varsity shell blended right in, crushing Grasshopper-Club, Zurich and Ruderclub Baden in the semifinals by nearly two lengths.

“It was almost exactly the same race pattern we’d followed for all our races this season,” senior seven-seat Justin Webb said. “From halfway down the course, the focus then shifted to talk of “let’s get ready for tomorrow.”

“Because it’s dual racing, once you really get up and gain control of the race, it’s much easier to shut it down and get ready for the next day, so that’s pretty much what we did.”

Leander handed Boston University’s varsity eight a loss by a third of a length to set the stage for the finals.

“We knew that Leander would go out fast,” senior bow Will Riffelmacher said. “But our plan going into the race was to try to set the pace of the race ourselves and not wait for Leander to set the tone.”

But despite the concerted effort to maintain close contact, Harvard fell well behind off the start, thanks in large part to a favorable wind that lended itself directly to Leander’s race strategy.

While a strong wind the previous day against BU had prevented Leander from gaining a sizeable advantage thanks to an increased base cadence off the start, with calm conditions against Harvard, the British crew had little difficulty staking itself to a huge early lead.

By the course’s midway point, the Crimson was behind by a full two and a half lengths, according to Webb.

“Racing on their home course, they just sprinted for the first half of the course. and set a pace that was just a bit too fast for us to keep up with,” Webb said. “Our race plan was to try and run with them, then take them in the second half of the race when they were a bit worn down.”

Had the wind conditions been more demanding, the strategy would likely have worked to perfection.

But the deficit proved insurmountable, despite a heroic comeback push from Harvard during the race’s final stretch.

“We were determined not to let the race get away from us and we began to bring the rating up with about 800 meters to go,” Riffelmacher said. “We moved back a lot on Leander during the sprint, but did not quite have enough to catch them.”

As the race drew near its midway point, the Crimson began to make a move of its own.

According to Webb, the Crimson let loose with close to an all-out sprint for 700 meters—close to two minutes long—first closing the open-water gap, then pulling to within half a length.

But Harvard and its six seniors simply ran out of time, officially crossing the line three-quarters of a length behind the Leander crew.

“I don’t think anything went wrong,” Riffelmacher said. “Leander was a very fast crew and we had a great race.”

“It was a great way to cap off a fantastic season and a pretty fulfilling career for all of us,” Webb added. “There’s nothing else in the sport like racing in front of that many people on that kind of level even though we didn’t come away with the silverware.”

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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