Edited 10pm Friday)
On a day that started out with two photo finishes in the light women's eight heats, in the end it was Mother Nature who produced most of the headlines. None was so dramatic, or at least required such a dramatic solution, as the first men's varsity eight semifinal. And then, in the end, all was calm, as you shall see if you read on.
Overnight on Thursday, the region was buffeted with intense thunderstorms that brought flooding rain to the Cooper River; water levels climbed an estimated three feet or more; the river came up so high that the starting tower appeared to be about 20 feet out into the lake (looking something like a lifeguard stand without rookies around to move it at high tide). The result was some iffy lane issues, as well as debris in the river that accumulated throughout the day, requiring a fleet of refs and officials to man jonboats that quickly filled with sticks, logs, and small trees.
Even in the first races of the day, debris was a problem; the Radcliffe light women's eight dragged a stick for at least a couple strokes before the coxswain was able to reach under the boat and huck a 12-inch piece of wood off the stern.
By the time of the men's V8 semis, the cleanup effort was making ground, but of course stray debris littered the course in places. In the first of the two A-B semis, with Yale in the lead and Cal in second at around 1100 meters to go in the semi, Syracuse was in third place by about a seat, with Northeastern two seats behind in fourth, and Harvard seven seats behind in fifth. A series of events involving debris on the Syracuse boat led to a protest, a review period that at first lasted two hours, but in the end the protest was withdrawn and the results stand. For those who were watching results closely and waiting for the draw, this was the cause of the delays. (Ed.'s note: this report originally included an extensive description of the details and outcome of the protest, which was to be a two-boat race-off between Northeastern and Syracuse for the seventh lane in the Grand Final.)
The racing contained a few surprises of a more conventional nature as well, including Yale's wire-to-wire win in the same semi. It wasn't a stretch to expect Yale to do well at this regatta - they had given Princeton a great chase in the heats at Sprints - but to see them lead a semi all the way looks almost like a true arrival. If it was a surprise to anyone else, it doesn't sound like it was the case for the Yale guys. Apparently at least the crew wasn't thinking about just qualifying - they raced to win today, getting out to about a ½ length with a move at about 600 gone, and leading the rest of the way
"We have a group of juniors and seniors who have been getting closer, and some of them had a great race against Washington last year, and thought this was their best shot to beat beat Cal or Harvard that they have had yet," said coach John Pescatore; "so the goal was to do that by going out to win." PEscatore admitted he took the lead of the crew in this regard.
"I was talking about qualifying, but the guys wanted to win the race," he said. "So they sprinted a bit at the end to do it - I don't know if anyone else did - but they achieved what they set out to do."
In the other semi, which, despite the events of the previous semi, looked on paper to be the deeper and thus more bruising semit, Princeton trailed briefly, but by the 1000 pretty much had the race under control, and cruised a bit to the finish just ahead of Washington, although the times do make the race seem a bit tighter than it felt from the announcing and from shore. Third-place Brown seemed to be working from a different playbook than yesterday, where they blasted off the line and tried to take control of the race from the start. Today they lagged toward the back of the pack until the last 500, then jacked the rating into the high 30s and near 40 with 400 to go, and moved on everyone in the field, racing up from near-fifth to pass Northeastern in third and nab a spot in the grand.
"We didn't really have a different plan today, but there were parts of our race plan that we never had to use yesterday in the heat," explained Brown coach Paul Cooke. "after watching the heats yesterday, I thought Wisconsin would be the frontrunner today, and told the guys that I thought we could get through so long as we were within a length with 500 to go. But to be honest, I never thought we would really have to do that, and when it happened just like that, I wasn't actually sure - I thought we might have spotted them a little too much - but the guys were able to pull it off."
For tomorrow, Cooke is cautiously optimistic. "Physically, I know we can do it; we'll just have to be ready for a very tough race."
As for the weather, there was more; the racing schedule had to be altered to accommodate the river commission's need to lower the lake by opening the dams, and a convincing thunderstorm delayed the last several races of the day with only one hour of scheduled races to go. Regatta organizers, who could barely catch a break today (the parting of the clouds for the light women's eight rep definitely qualified as a break, tho, as to run both a rep and a final on Saturday would have been a big ask), did an admirable job of holding things together under difficult circumstances; at times, it seemed like the coaches were barely thinking about the conditions, despite protests, currents, and the like. The IRA remains a great regatta, despite.
With 2.1 second separating five crews in the heats first thing this morning (and only 0.2 separating the two rep winners this evening), the women's lightweight 8 final should be a close one. In the first heat, Princeton led the whole way, while UCF trailed Princeton and Wisco in third only to come barreling up at the end of the racecourse to nip Wisco in a photo finish that sent the Sprints champ from just two weeks ago to the evening reps. From row2k's vantage point at the starting line, the Wisco crew may have taken the advancement a little lightly; they looked somewhat more focused in the afternoon.
In the other heat, Radcliffe blasted out of the gates to take what looked like a length lead from the unreliable vantage point of the starting line; but down the course picked up some debris, which the coxswain dispatched nicely as noted above. What is a problem like that worth, a second or two? If so, it would make the two heat winners about evenly matched in speed this morning.
Washington had a very good day, placing all four of their boats in the grand final - V8, 2V8, F8, and open 4. The 2V in particular had a nice race, taking the rep from archrival Cal, to whom they had lost twice this year. The changes between the varsity and JV mentioned in yesterday's report seem to have resulted in the unusual happenstance of making both boats faster. Some quotes from the crews courtesy of Dan Lepse:
"So much of it is just chemistry. These guys are race dogs," explained Coach Bob Ernst. "We train all year long and this is the ultimate goal every year, to see how we are going to do at the national championships. All that other stuff, everything until Saturday, is a prelim." "The second varsity had to reach down and row to the occasion. I couldn't be prouder of those guys," Ernst said. "That was a courageous race. They went out to win it on the first stroke and they just kept going. You find out what kind of athletes you've got in a rep where only the winner goes to the grand final."
"We're always aware of the tradition of this crew," coxswain Adrian Andrews said of the two-time defending champion UW second varsity. "We have a plaque in the boathouse that lists all of the national champions with their name and the year they won. It's in our weight room and we look at that thing every day. We put ourselves in position to be on there and we'll see what happens tomorrow."
Harsh reps: several of today's reps were one to advance - owww.
At the end of the day, with the regatta site almost utterly cleared out, race officials and refs waited out a pretty strong thunderstorm to run the last couple A-B semis, as well as the light women's reps. They just got it all in, and for the better; had the light women's reps not been run, for example, forcing a Saturday morning rep, come finals time the two heat winners would have raced only once some 36 hours prior, while the crews in the reps would have had to race twice in one day. Sunny skies and nearly perfect calm descended on the course for these last few races; then a couple hours later the air cleared of all protests, as well.
As I file this, it is pouring rain here at row2k HQ, just 45 miles from the race course; here's fingers crossed that the rain abates and the course clears out for the Saturday showdown.