A couple more upsets in the marquee events and some incredibly fast, tight racing made the afternoon finals at the Men's Eastern Sprints well worth the trip this Sunday. And although seeing the Princeton Lights and the Harvard Heavies back at the center of the podium this season might have seemed like business as usual, it's a good bet that neither the coaches nor the crews themselves would have called these wins sure things at any point in recent weeks.
The days' tailwind (for the record, a sprightly north-northwest cross tail that was between 10-20 mph for the afternoon) definitely contributed to some fast times and a little chop in in the afternoon.
Although they both upset a higher-seeded opponent, and one who had beaten them earlier this season, the Princeton Lightweight V8+ and the Harvard Heavyweight V8+ had distinctly different races enroute to the awards dock. In Harvard's case, the Crimson nosed out of the field along with Princeton and Brown in the 2nd 500 meters or so, then steadily built their advantage over the Princeton heavies, who have decidedly put themselves back in the picture, and Brown, who just couldn't seem to get tracked in this one, rowing off in lane 6 as a result of their morning upset by Dartmouth.
Harvard celebrated their first Sprints title in the V8 since 2007 with appropriate ebullience, but were not taking anything for granted. "I think you always hope for this, but you can certainly never expect it," said Harvard's Harry Parker after the racing. "We nursed the crew through exams, and just told them to 'go for it!' today."
By winning the V8 and the frosh eight, Harvard also sealed up the Rowe Cup for heavyweight team performance, also for the first time since 2007.
By stark contrast, in the Varsity Lightweight 8+ Grand, Princeton put themselves ahead early and then seemed to have the speed and composure to fend off anything that Harvard threw their way. The race was a study in differing styles, with observers both on shore and in the radio commentary noting that Princeton was kicking up more water off their blades than Harvard was, but with Harvard not able to parlay that smoothness into any kind of dent into Princeton's lead. At the finish, Princeton had their boatlength, reversing a 4-seat defeat to the Crimson from two weeks previous, while Harvard just held off a fast-finishing Yale crew for the Silver.
"We basically spent 8 days working on getting an extra 3 seats after that race [on May 1st]," said first-year Princeton lightweight head coach Marty Crotty. "I don't know if it's more demoralizing being down 4 seats or 8 seats, but we knew that Harvard was very good and that we'd have to do the work in the middle 1000 of the race. The guys did a great job hitting their margins at every point of the race."
With each Princeton and Harvard having beaten the other once, the rubber match will come at the IRAs for the National title. Crotty wasn't looking that far ahead. "Who knows? In three weeks, everything might be different!"
With wins in the Lightweight JV and a well-earned bronze in the Lightweight frosh eight, Princeton also reclaimed the Jope Cup for lightweight points, just ahead of Harvard.
The JV events in fact saw the few races where the top seeds fared well today, with the Brown and the Princeton lightweights successfully defending their #1 rankings going in. The Brown heavies saw off Cornell and Wisconsin, while Princeton beat Yale and Cornell for top honors on the lightweight side.
The Freshman racing provided some great fireworks to open the afternoon racing as the Cornell Frosh Lights ended Harvard's previously undefeated season with a huge sprint for the win. "We used our early-season loss to Harvard as motivation for today," said Sean Healey, Cornell's freshman lightweight coach. "They used that to refocus on the job of climbing up the hill to get ahead of Harvard, and they did an awesome job of doing that work."
Judging from the photographic evidence of the racing, this one wasn't a done deal at any point, even with 10 strokes to go.
It was nearly the same story in the Frosh heavyweight final, although Harvard's finish in this one was almost palpable on shore; Princeton rowed a courageous race all the way down the course in an effort to claim the title, but very few crews on the lake today could have withstood what the Harvard crew threw down in the last 20 strokes or so. The final margin was half a second, and the final times (05:37.29 to Princeton's 05:37.78) were as impressive as the race itself.
"We expected a challenge from all five crews out there today, particularly with the conditions here today" said Harvard Frosh coach Bill Manning. "These guys have done a better job of buying into the work ethic and attitude of the upperclassmen earlier in their Harvard careers than some previous years. These guys have bought in earlier, and the success they've enjoyed has been a direct result of that."
Cornell's bronze medal in this event, in addition to Cornell's win in a four-boat Second Freshman Heavyweight Grand earlier in the afternoon likely indicates that the EARC heavyweight field is another consistent competitor stronger. Cornell also won the 3V lightweight eights race, besting a 7-boat field from Lane 0, well played! Navy claimed gold in the first final of the afternoon, the 2F Lightweight event.
As the events progressed throughout the afternoon, in addition to the increase in the speed of the field you could see an increase in cox-tossing proficiency; the faster the boat, the better the cox toss (more to come in our galleries later!)
A number of coaches took their obligatory swims as well; Harry Parker has gone in before, but today he dismissed all efforts in this direction with a quick smile and no-nonsense wave "bye bye" as he left the awards dock, Rowe Cup in hand.
It's always surprising how quickly the beach and viewing area clears out after the last race has cleared the course; with crews and coaches packing up shirts, shells and trailers, the only action left is at the tents, and of course, at Mr. Grinold's tailgate. Although this reporter had to decline his invitation to join this illustrious round, a quick glance at the participants confirmed that the living history of five or six decades of racing at the EARC Sprints was in very, very good hands.