The storyline of the day has to be the BU varsity headed to the IRA Grand Final in coach Tom Bohrer's first year at the helm, although the Cal varsity's blowout performance in the same semi (also with a first year coach at the helm in Mike Teti) may end up having the greater significance come Saturday's lunch hour final. Cal had open water on the field by 800 gone, and they had to be thankful for it, as there wasn't even any light let alone water separating the three crews vying for the two remaining Grand final qualifying spots.
Harvard, Boston and Wisco duked it out for the full 2000 meters minus none, racing within 4-5 seats of one another the whole way, with all three of them in the crucial third position at some point, and indeed at several points. Entering the final 500, just when it looked like BU was done, Harvard got themselves just clear of the fray while Boston started a push for the line that really very few people on shore thought would amount to much more than a Hail Mary effort (the university was founded by Methodists after all). But the guys in the boat obviously thought they had a shot, and BU busted their bow ahead of the defending champ Wisco by 0.4 seconds to take the third and final spot in the final.
Before the V8 semis started, I received a message from an alum at one of the competing schools commenting that their alma mater was in the "better semi." Which one was that? You mean the first one that I just described above, or the second one that had Washington and Stanford in it, both of whom have beaten Cal at some point, as well as the Sprint winner Brown? Both were gnarly, woah.
The second semi didn't quite provide the fireworks that the first had, however, with Stanford owning the first 1000, Washington owning the second, and Brown in a very solid and almost unchallenged third the whole way. From lane 1 to 6, tomorrow's Grand final reads:
Talk about east vs. west.
The lightweight women kicked off their IRA racing today with a pair of heats in the morning followed by a rep as the last race of the day; early honors went somewhat unsurprisingly to Wisco, which I am pretty sure rowed a somewhat different lineup from their Sprints crew, but still raced the same way, rowing away from the field at a long and leisurely 31 strokes per minute. Behind them, Georgetown raced at 35 the whole way, pulling away from an understroking Radcliffe (33spm) early on until Radcliffe finally bumped the rating up and pushed through. You wonder which is harder - hold down the rating for most of the race and then go for broke, or lay it out early and then hope to cruise in? Either way, Radcliffe got themselves ahead for the second of two qualifying spots in the final 15 strokes of the race.
In the other heat, Stanford took hold of an early lead and never let go, leaving a high-stroking (37) Princeton crew and a low-stroking (32) Bucknell crew to fight over the second spot. Bucknell slowly but finally plowed their way into the second spot with about 4 strokes to go. That three of the four qualifying crews spent the majority of the race rowing in the low 30s seems completely unexpected - aren't lightweights always known for racing high and hard, always?
Most of the reps played out as expected - I believe every case, the "favored" or higher seeded crews advanced. Among the frosh eight races, Princeton gave Cornell good chase, and Stanford did the same with Wisco in their 2V rep, but otherwise the reps did not feature any truly tight races, which may have been helped in part by the brisk cross headwind that spread out the field throughout the day.
The Lake Natoma venue is very nicely laid out, with crews, boat area, family tents, and the finish line all in a 300 meter long area that never feels too tight. The very spirited but casual atmosphere at the IRA today, with athletes and families and fans all mixing together, really felt right for our sport - rowing as run by rowers. If we can carry that atmosphere onto a bigger stage, we'll be really on track.
Wisco fans are out in strength this weekend - I'm staying at what must be the official family hotel, and the sea of red each morning at breakfast is impressive - and they were not holding back letting their colors fly, as some of the photos I hope to post in a "candids" gallery today will show. One special touch was the boom box playing polka tunes - I am sure I have never seen Roll Out the Barrel sung by a big group of parents at a regatta before today.
Also in the candids gallery, look for the George Washington coxswain carrying full 38.2 lbs of weight - nearly half her body weight!
The jumbotron also kicked in today, which changes up the dynamic of the scene very quickly - all of the nation's coaches standing in close proximity watching every stroke of the race, with a huge clutch of athletes, spectators, fans, and especially parents right behind. It was all folks could do to tear their eyes off the screen when the crews finally came up right in front of them in the flesh.
The Saturday program at the IRA would typically start with the heats of the light men's eight, but this year there are only seven entries, so it was decided the championship would be rowed as a final only, seven across. This also changes the order of racing for the last races of the day, as previously the lightweight races were run last to allow sufficient recovery for the crews before having to race the final; in the absence of the morning heats, the heavy men's eight has been moved to the end of the program. See the full schedule here, and see you at the course tomorrow - whether it be on site, or on the Web. Tremendous luck to all the crews in this last day of racing.