If you think winning the national championship in rowing isn't a big deal in Seattle, think again; how many other programs would allow the hijacking of the front page of their entire athletic department Web site with a photo of an IRA-winning rowing crew? Check it out at gohuskies.com.
Washington won their first IRA title and completed their first undefeated season since 1997 today, and took their first Ten Eyck points trophy since 1970, after winning the national men's eights title with a powerful, commanding, and almost workaday performance; they didn't make it quite look easy, but neither did it ever really seem in doubt. And it's not like there wasn't a race right behind them; the race for the medals resulted in a dead heat for second between Stanford and Harvard (check out the photo finish shot here, posted in a large size for better viewing), a hair under one second behind Washington. Brown was only 0.8 second behind them, followed by Cal and Princeton; this was a fantastic men's eight final.
Washington coach Bob Ernst:
On the outcome of the race:
This field is really outstanding. It's really hard to win this race. Having everybody here now is just awesome. Harvard, Yale, everyone; you gotta be really good to win this thing.
The crew wasn't really pushed all weekend until the final; were you confident they had the extra gear to win the race?
They're just race dawgs; I knew if it came down to the last 300 meters they were going to win. Honestly I thought the varsity guys had it pretty much under control. They were rowing our race on our pace, and I knew if it came down to the last 300 meters we could win it. They had to hold Cal off at the Pac-10s in the last 500 meters, and they are really good in those last 300 meters.
Is this a veteran crew?
There are four sophomores, two seniors in the varsity, and one senior in the JV. Some of the guys will take the year off for the Olympic team next year, so it will be a whole new look. But I'm glad the jays are doing so well; the only senior in that boat is the bowman.
Did you feel any pressure from being tapped to win this last winter?
Not really. It's fun coaching these guys every day. They come to practice ready to win this race every day.
Question from a local reporter: Is this a statement for west coast rowing?
It's a statement for Washington rowing. West coast rowing is so competitive right now, and it's great for us to come here and race guys we haven't raced all year. This league is so unbelievably tough, you gotta be good to win this thing. And that's why it changes around so much.
Lightweight Men's Eight
Cornell repeated as national champion in the light men's eight with some new tactics founded on mistakes they felt they made at the Eastern Sprints, where they placed second to Dartmouth. Today they got their bow ahead for the second year in a row, followed by Harvard and Georgetown in a photo finish that went to Harvard by 0.029 seconds, with Dartmouth, Yale, and Navy rounding out the field. I talked to Cornell coach Todd Kennett after the race about some significant changes the crew made after their Sprints silver medal placing.
What was your approach to the final today?
Off the start we knew we didn't want to go too high; only about 39 or maybe a 40, only for about 40 seconds or so, because our base speed is our bread and butter. So we talked about just getting down low enough, not let our nerves get to us and try to go out too fast. We tried not to play the game of everybody rowing really high.
Where were you at the end of that 40 seconds?
I think we had dropped into about fourth or fifth, but not by much, maybe about three seats back. Then Georgetown shot out; they got out about five seats on us, and I thought uh-oh, but we started to emerge out of the pack at about 400 meters, and I could see the kids were long and low, which I was happy with, and I thought we just need time now to see if anyone could hold on. We got to the 1000 and I could see we were slowly catching up to Georgetown, and just after the 1000 we got through them. We're talking about maybe five seats back to just barely ahead, and I knew once we got in that position we could be dangerous if we could hit the third 500 good. I was biking along and we got to the 1500 and I saw where we were and I thought that, unless we had somebody cash out and bonk, I knew we were in a really good position. It was really tight there, don't get me wrong, but I knew according to our race plan if we could negative split that last 500? we worked a lot on our sprint, and I knew the longer we stayed at that 35, and if nobody bonked, we could get to those last 20 strokes and our sprint, and that's what they did.
When did you change your start and race plan?
The kids were really disappointed after the Sprints, where we came second. They really thought they were going there to win. We made a huge mistake in the Sprints; Dartmouth rows so well, and in the rough water they outrowed us, I thought, unbelievably well. And our fourth 500 was our worst one. We were in good position at the Sprints, but we couldn't execute in the dirty water, and Dartmouth did so beautifully. So we did a lot of work on cleanliness, but we did a lot more work on staying composed and rowing our race, and not letting ourselves get flustered and trying to attack too early.
Were you nervous about making a big change to your racing start, and defying conventional wisdom about ratings and racing starts?
We were going faster that way. We did a bunch of work on what's faster - was it faster at a 44 or not? We did some work with the Speedcoach, and I have a couple little spots on the course, and we tested it that way.
They came a long way in three weeks. At Sprints we were very unsure of ourselves, and Dartmouth really threw us for a loop, but they really focused on improving, and I sure couldn't be happier.
Lightweight Women's Eight
While all eyes were on yet another Princeton-Wisconsin showdown, Bucknell quietly and competently nabbed the gold for what could well be Bucknell's first IRA medal, and certainly their first lightweight national championship. Bucknell coach Steve Kish was visibly emotional about the win, although he knew how fleeting the feeling can be. "If you ran this race with these crews twenty times, you would probably have a different winner every time," he said. He wasn't surprised his crew could win it, but thinks it will be harder next time. "I think this is tougher to do when you have done it already," he said. "We had a lot of fun this year going places and doing things we have never done before, but sometimes it's tougher for the crews who have already been there. And it will be tougher to repeat."
The awards were handed out by two State Troopers, one of whom was a Rutgers oarsman class of 1983.
Washington coach Bob Ernst has a soft spot for his 2V, and the crew rewarded it with a win that played no small part in earning the UW program the Ten Eyck points trophy at the end of the day. "I knew they could win," Ernst said. "There are a lot of big strong racers in that boat. Both the crews managed their races very well. They were at 34 most of the way down; the varsity was at 35 part of the way, but the jays were at 34, 33, just rowing with power." Behind them it was all red for at least a few spots; Wisco took silver, and Cornell took bronze, followed by Harvard, Cal, and Brown.
Cal completed an undefeated season in character, with a steady, strong row at the atypically modest cadence of 33-34. "The crew is big and strong, but not particularly agile, so once they get down to cadence, they have the ability to power down the course," said coach Geoff Bond. The crew includes novice Brandon Shald who spent two years at a junior college and time in Europe pursuing a career as a ballet dancer; he is also the son of Philip Shald, who was slated to be in the 1964 US Olympic crew before heading to Cambodia for military service. "When he decided he was not going to dance any more and wanted to go to college and have a 'normal' life, he gave us a call and wanted to follow in his father's footsteps." Shald's circuitous route to Cal and rowing also made him the oldest competitor in the frosh eight at 23 years old.
Syracuse, Cornell, Brown, Penn, Navy, MIT - these guys have become the stalwarts of the IRA masters race. The race has folks from their 20s into their 80s in the race, and the rowing isn't half bad for guys almost as old as I am.
The final of the 4- was stopped with 350 to go the Harvard crew interfered with the Hobart crew; the two crews were in fourth and fifth position at the time, and chief official Bob Appleyard said that stopping the race was probably not the best call given the circumstances, but that was the call that was made in the heat of the moment, so the crews did a re-row at the end of the racing schedule. In the first run-through, the crew composed of Navy 2V lightweights looked to be a lock for the win; when the race was stopped, Navy coach Rob Friedrich was out on the bike path, and feared the worst.
"When the race was stopped, I thought 'Whew, I don't know if we can repeat that,'" he said when it was all over. "But when I got back to the dock, the guys said they thought they had not really had a good row, and that they could come back and do a much better job." Friedrich said he was relieved, and sure enough the Navy lights returned to win their first full 2k of the day. The Hobart crew had to be happy for the re-row, however, as they grabbed the silver come the afternoon, followed by Syracuse in bronze position.
Cal took their second fours race in less than an hour in the event, repeating their confident Pac-10 performance with their second come-from-behind championship in a month. "This is the same crew that won the Pac-10, and they rowed the same race that they did there," said coach Andy Hilton. "I tried some lineup changes to put guys into more logical seats for them, but finally decided not to be foolish and try to fix what wasn't broken. You can really trust this crew; we don't have long boat meetings or anything like that; the only time we have had any anxiety at all was last weekend when we were racing pretty close with the frosh four."
The men's open four had to be restarted after the Northeastern stroke caught a crab during the first 10 strokes of the racing start, got into a tangle with his oar handle, and was cleanly ejected from the boat. Announcer Fred Schoch assured the audience that he was okay, and after climbing back into the boat was "shaking off the water like a distressed dog." The cool-down in the Cooper didn't seem to hurt his rowing too much; the race was restarted, and the crew took the bronze medal. He has to be in a very select group of rowers who have gone from the drink to the medals dock at a championship regatta.
In the lead, the Washington four extended UW's gold medal streak in the event to five, winning the event with a chugging race plan that depended on a steady pace to do most of the damage in the second thousand. The crew came together only a few weeks ago heading into the IRA, so their first race together was the heat on Thursday. "This is what we were trying to teach them to do, really glad it came together today," said UW fours coach Colin Sykes. "They were third at 500 gone, second at the 1000, and they were finally able to get through after that." The crew eventually won the event by about a length of clear water. "This is what we were trying to teach them to do," he said. "We're really glad it came together today."
Finally, Wisco A and B went 1-2 in the petite final; talk about even boats. Frosh Four
The Cal frosh four, consisting of four members of their 2F, led their final from wire-to-wire; some of their speed surely came from racing over their heads most of the year. "We don't have a lot of second frosh crews to race," said Cal frosh coach Geoff Bond, "but we were able to get a few races for them against first freshman crews, where they did pretty weel. And I can tell you without qualification that they have been a real pain in the ass for our 1F this year."
The Cal crew consisted of some strapping 2F rowers; second place went to a Yale crew consisting of frosh lightweights. "Not bad for a bunch of little guys," said Yale coach Andy Card on the medals dock.
Temple's winning crew consists of one senior and one junior, the first from England, the latter from Australia; "We focused on our younger rowers in the bigger boats, and then we put these guys in the pair and it just took off," Temple coach Gavin White said. "I had watched Wisco race this week and told our guys that it seemed that Wisco liked to punch out to the lead, so if we could be poised and patient, their skill might get them through in the last 250." White's sense of things played out almost to script: "They were in third by open water at about 750 to go, then they slowly started to close the gap; it wasn't until the last couple hundred meters that they were in the lead." Wisco placed second, and Columbia made it to the medals dock for the bronze.
And so ends the 105th IRA championship, and, save for next weekend's Harvard-Yale race, another collegiate racing season. row2k has been here for every single day of the season; we hope you have enjoyed our coverage.