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After two undefeated seasons and back-to-back gold medals at EARC Sprints and IRA National Championships, the Harvard Men’s Lightweight Crew program was not looking to change their winning formula. But, due to shifts in coaching staff across the Harvard rowing program, the Crimson lightweights will be welcoming a new head coach for the 2013-2014 season, former Radcliffe Lightweight Women’s head coach Michiel Bartman.
“I think the University hired a good coach,” assistant lightweight coach Linda E. Muri said. “He has a lot of international experience as an oarsman and he raced for the Netherlands. He’s a three time Olympic medalist.”
Longtime heavyweight coach Harry Parker passed away in June, leaving behind big shoes for the Harvard rowing program to fill. Parker coached at Harvard for 52 years, revolutionizing the sport and changing the norms of collegiate rowing. During his time as head coach of the Crimson heavyweights, he led the team to 22 undefeated regular seasons, 24 titles at EARC Sprints and 16 official and unofficial national championships. Parker died at age 77 after a two-year struggle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a kind of blood cancer.
Parker’s death set in motion a shift in personnel throughout all dimensions of the program, affecting men and women, heavyweights and lightweights alike. Charley Butt was appointed to fill Parker’s place after serving as the men’s lightweight coach for the past 28 years. During Butt’s time with the lightweights, the Crimson achieved 25 winning dual season records, 15 Eastern titles and nine IRA National Championships.
While the Harvard heavyweights gained a new coach, the lightweights lost one. The program conducted a national search, but once again pulled from within to fill the position, appointing an accomplished oarsman and former lightweight women’s coach in Bartman.
“It’s a very exciting new challenge,” Bartman said. “On one hand, I’m sad that I will no longer be with the lightweight women… But, the move to the lightweight men was good for me on certain personal levels. One of them was the new heavyweight men’s coach, Charley Butt. I’ve known him for 20 years and we’ve shared a lot of ideas about rowing, talking about technique or approaching certain things and we have become personal friends. It was for me a great way to start to work together.”
A native of the Netherlands, Bartman won a gold medal in the Dutch men’s eight in the 1996 Olympics. Before coming to Harvard, Bartman coached many athletes at Vesper Boat Club who participated in World Rowing Championships and the Olympics. When Bartman arrived at Harvard, he worked to transform the struggling women’s lightweight program.
“When I got here with the lightweight women, I started in a different way because they were ranked lower than they are ranked now,” Bartman said. “I had to rebuild the program. With the lightweight men, they have been undefeated for the past two seasons and it’s a very strong team, so I want to hold onto the good things and introduce new things.”
As for the team’s goals this season:
“The main word for this year is going to be ‘three-peat,’” Bartman said, referring to the team’s desire to go undefeated and win gold at EARC Sprints and IRA National Championships for a third straight year.
The one lingering question is how Bartman’s appointment will affect the lightweight women, whose program thrived under his leadership.
“The day after I found out that I got the job, the Radcliffe coaches immediately stepped up,” Bartman said. “For example, Kathy Keeler, who is the late wife of Harry Parker, [came] down to the boat house to offer her help. There is definitely some disturbance in the programs but I think one of the things that we do well is [draw] great support from everybody.”
Despite the changes in the program, Muri remains confident that Harvard rowing will have a successful season across the board.
“The students and so, therefore, the oarsmen at Harvard are very motivated, driven people, so I think they are going to respond to the good coaching regardless of who it is,” Muri said. “I think there will be changes but I don’t think there will be a drop off in success.”
—Staff writer Alexa N. Gellman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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