For only the second time in the twenty-first century, Yale has won the Harvard-Yale Regatta.
It was a truly beautiful morning at Gales Ferry, with a bright shining sun and a tailwind that matched the incoming current – fast conditions for the oarsmen. On such a wide body of water serious wind can churn up choppy water and whitecaps, so any wind that doesn't prove so aggressive really isn't so bad.
This year, for the 150th running of the race and rivalry (the 150th anniversary was in 2002, but the race was not run in some years), alumni swarmed in by the hundreds to watch their alma maters race head-to-head, and to celebrate and reminisce their times spent at Gales Ferry and Red Top. On Saturday evening, an alumni row and dinner brought the former Yale and Harvard oarsmen together to relive their glory days past.
On Sunday morning, a huge boat decked out with Yale banners and bunting flags cruised out into the river, packed with fans and families watching the race from the best seats in the house. Though they mostly were playing the Yale fight song over the loudspeakers, a few people heard them playing "Who Let The Dogs Out" early in the morning.
The traditional Freshman 2-miler has now given way to the 3V race, providing perhaps the last nail in the coffin of freshman rowing in an event that had somewhat admirably held out until the very last. With the 3V crews approaching the start, Harvard was already up 1-0 on the four races that make up the Harvard-Yale Regatta, after winning the Combination race on Saturday by 28 seconds.
The 3V race went off the line, and Harvard quickly took the lead, and while they weren't able to shake Yale off over the two-mile course, they were able to hold their own, with a winning time of 9:23.0 over Yale's 9:27.4. The young oarsmen celebrated their first win on the Thames, but the real celebrations would be saved for later in the morning after the verdict of the JV and Varsity boats was determined.
The JV three-mile race was without a doubt the most exciting race of the day. The two crews got off the line evenly, but as they approached the half-mile marker, Harvard took two seats, but Yale soon made a move and began to come through, giving them the slight advantage by the mile marker.
The two crews raced closely, Harvard trying to stick with Yale, while the Eli's tried to shake off the Crimson. But by the second mile maker, Yale was decidedly up on Harvard, and continued to move open, allowing them to cruise to the finish line at 13:43.6 followed by Harvard at 13:47.9. For this, the first Yale win since 2007, the crowd on the Yale fan-boat exploded. Cheers erupted and the fight song played on a loop, while the oarsmen celebrated their victory.
"Our focus all year was staying inside our boat, so when Harvard took a couple seats in the first mile we did a good job staying internal – we had our one planned moved so we started walking and didn't really stop for the rest of the way," said Lyon Van Voorhis, Yale captain and 4-seat in the JV crew.
"It was a really well executed race," he continued. "I'm really proud of the freshman – we had six freshman in that boat and I'm really proud of them for sticking with it and not getting phased."
Following the race, Harvard head coach Charley Butt drove his launch alongside Yale head coach Steve Gladstone's and handed over the F. Valentine Chappell Trophy, which has been in Harvard's possession for the past seven years. The two rival coaches, who are both relatively new to their programs – Butt has been leading Harvard's heavies for two years, and Gladstone is in his fifth year at Yale - share one common trait: during their careers, they both coached the Harvard lightweight men.
The final race of the day began far from the festivities, four miles downstream of the music and merriment. Harvard had two victories, Yale one, but the final race, the most important race, would determine who won the Harvard-Yale Regatta.
The Golden Rule in racing isn't any different from that which you learn in grade school: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. In the varsity race, Yale unleashed, and did unto Harvard as Harvard has (many times) done unto Yale – a fast start, early lead, and big margin. The Elis started fast and kept on cruising – with a winning time of 18:35.8 over Harvard's 18:52.5, Yale won the varsity race for the first time since 2007 and broke the upstream record that Harvard set in 1995 by nearly seven seconds.
"That was fantastic – we really just took control from the first stroke," said sophomore 2-seat Robert Hurn. "When we heard that the 2V had won when we were still warming up, it gave everyone a little confidence. I don’t think anyone had any doubts – we just dominated from stroke one right off the line."
The oarsmen went absolutely ballistic at the finish line; after the last stroke of the race, when he went to celebrate, Yale 7-seat caught a massive crab that nearly ejected him from the hull. The fan-boat blasted tunes, and from the top deck, men began to jump. One after another, the Yale oarsmen who had raced earlier in the morning flung themselves off the boat into the river, and swam over to celebrate with the winning crew. The celebrations were sweetened when they learned that they had broken a course record.
"There's nothing more pleasing that seeing the athletes that you coach fulfill their aspirations – what could be more satisfying than that? Coaches coach forever - and to me, every race is important, but they have a four year period to do this at Yale and to see them fulfill their desires is enormously rewarding," said Gladstone.
Surrounded by a swarm of press, Gladstone reflected on the nature of the Harvard-Yale Regatta and the uncertainty entering the day. Although Yale beat Harvard to win the Eastern Sprints just a few weeks ago, their IRA semifinals performance left them out of the grand final last weekend, and the likely result of Harvard-Yale was not obvious at the start of the day. The endurance of the four-mile race is so different from that of a 2k; the mental game is elevated.
"The key to the race is to race it from the get-go, not be intimidated that its four miles," Gladstone said. "The Harvard crews turn it on, we turn it on and you take it from there. You don't start the race and say, 'I'm going to modulate and back off since it's four miles.'"
Though the Yale varsity crew was void of seniors, Gladstone was careful to note that each year is so different from the last, and 2016 would surely present new challenges.
"One has to be careful not to row off into the sunset – this is one race, this is 2015 and Yale won the varsity and the second varsity race," he said. "We were very, very pleased with that. Next year is 2016 and a whole new game."
There's something really special about the Harvard-Yale Regatta, the time spent at Gales Ferry and Red Top, the rivalry, the unique distance, the history. It was clear from the number of alumni who celebrated and mourned with their teams, that this regatta is not like any other, and it's certain that the oarsmen – win or lose – will leave their temporary rowing campus ready to return in 2016 and throw down another fight on the Thames.