After a long night of thunderstorms, one of which blew up the power transformer in the park on the Cooper, dawn in Cherry Hill found the Cooper River about a foot and a half higher again than it had been on Friday morning. Coursemeister Al Wachlin and the referees combed the course for debris, and the regatta started only about a half hour late with the heats of the light men's eights.
But no point lingering on the morning; to cut to the chase for the big eights at the end of the day, this year's IRA saw two varsity eights repeat from the Eastern Sprints, and one repeat from the Pac-10s, as Cornell and Wisco won the light men's and women's eights, and Cal upset undefeated Princeton in the men's eight.
The Cal win was achieved in very un-Cal ("UnCala?") fashion; Cal, a crew that typically races to the front, and then races to try to hang on to the lead, has been racing from behind all year this year, and they did it again today. Their come-from-behind victory came in an incredibly tight race that saw only five seconds separating the entire field, something we haven't seen in a while (and which row2k predicted a few days ago). In the first 1000 meters, it seemed like the announcer called five different leaders at some point, but when the Princeton varsity nudged their bow ahead of the field, many onlookers thought it was all over.
But less than 10 strokes later, a new leader was called, as Cal drew even and gushed out to a half then 2/3 length lead in a very short span. It was all the crew needed, and while the entire field remained in hot pursuit, none really ever took back any water from the Cal varsity, who arrived at the line almost two seconds ahead of silver medalist Princeton. Brown capped a very exciting season with a bronze medal, followed by Harvard, Washington and Yale, all within a few seats of each other.
After the race, Cal coach Steve Gladstone said that the crew's new racing strategy was born not so much of strategy as of necessity.
"We were able to discern that this was the best pace for this crew, to have the cadence down around 34.5 or 35, and to build on that," the recently mustache-less Gladstone said. "Today I was concerned that, with the tailwind, it might put us off our game. But without offending the guys, this crew is not a very hefty crew, so to try to blast off the line and then hold was not the best fit for the crew. Other crews we have had, such as the '99 boat, for example, was really a very strong group, and they were able to do that. So we figured out the best way for this crew to race; whether it would win, I had no idea, but it became blatantly obvious it was the only way to race, that it was the best fit."
This marks Gladstone's 11th IRA victory (five at Brown, six at Cal), tying him with Charles "Pop" Courtney for the most national championships; Courtney won 11 titles while coaching at Cornell from 1901-1915.
Light Men's Eight The Cornell Big Red's run at the Eastern Sprints title definitely made an impression – they controlled both the heat and the final from wire to wire – and it looked today like they had the same thing in mind. But as the finish line got closer, Cornell began to run out of steam, and the field charged back on them – but it was (very) close but no cigar as Cornell nabbed the national championship by 0.076 over Harvard, followed by a shuffled Princeton varsity (that was on the wrong side of a Sprints photo finish in the heats that sent them to the petites two weeks ago) in bronze medal position.
"We had success settling with a shift to power, to get rhythm from power, and we tried to race the same way today, but as we came to the finish I thought the guys might have given it a little too much early in the race," Cornell coach Todd Kennett said after the race, still breathing heavy from the peloton sprint but still smartly emptying his pockets for the inevitable dunking on the medal stand. "We knew we would be in the race of our lives, and it looked like they got caught up in the race for their lives and went out a little too fast. And we hate tailwinds! But I'm not complaining, not today."
Light Women's Eight The Wisconsin light women reached the final by the backroads through the reps yesterday, but nonetheless was able to defend their national championship by the time of the final with an open water victory over a jubilant Georgetown in silver position, Radcliffe in bronze, followed by Princeton, Central Florida, and Bucknell. Wisco coach Mary Shofner said her crew "is always prepared for any scenario, to race as many times as you need to get the job done," but that the trip through the reps may have shocked the boat a bit – and maybe shocked them into performing.
"We're not supposed to be the team that is overconfident going into the national championships, but I can't say for sure that there wasn't some of that going on," Shofner said. "After the heats, I told them that their opponents are going to try to do things to take them off their game that is the nature of competitive sports."
The crew includes six seniors, with four from last year's crew including the coxswain, but has a frosh in the stroke seat. Shofner said the crew has been more volatile in practice than past crews, and that when it came to the last two races, the crew "showed up."
"I think the seniors in the boat were a little shocked not to have when they always have had, and they came back very poised to get the job done," she said.
The wake-up call in the heats also inspired Shofner to take a risk with a rigging change that she has been postponing all season. "I had the crew rigged lighter than in the past while waiting for the taper to kick in, and due to a couple chronic injuries," she explained. "After the heat, I loaded up the rig to the same rig we had rowed in the 04-05 crew, when we had three powerful people in the stern three, and rowed it in the rep to make sure it would work." Shofner also told the crew what she was doing.
"Sometimes a coach won't tell the crew about a rigging change, but I wanted to tell them what we were doing," she said. "It was a risky move, but I felt like it was the right thing to do, and I wanted them to know about it."
The Georgetown women may have been the day's happiest silver medalists; I believe this was their first national championship medal in the event. The crew was racing in the Ocior Euro, which means something along the lines of "swift like the wind," and was the name of the very first Georgetown rowing shell. The two-seat of the Georgetown crew, a classics major, came across the reference while doing research in the Georgetown library.
Men's Second Varsity Eight The Harvard 2V goose-egged the season with a victory over silver medalist Yale and bronze medalist Wisco; the 3-miler next weekend could be interesting. Coach Harry Parker was asked if this completely an undefeated season for the crew. "Yes," the famously laconic Parker said.
Men's Freshman Eight The Washington frosh lost the dual to Cal by four seconds, then lost at Pac-10s by 0.2 seconds, and today they finally got past Cal to take gold by about four seats, with clear water back to Sprints champs Penn in bronze position. UW frosh coach Mike Callahan said the difference came in "letting the boat start doing some of the work for us.
"In the dual race, we were racing up and down the tracks," Callahan said. "After that we started doing long pieces, including 2ks where we settled all the way down to a 32, and the boat started to run. At Pac-10s, we came up short, but the guys felt like they had just let themselves get a little too far behind, but that we were on track. Then until two weeks ago, we hadn't really given them a final 500, so we just worked on the end of the race a lot leading up to the IRAs. They were able to put it all together today."
Master's Eight Described by emcee John Hartigan as the "Old Folks Masters Eight" – Hartigan knows and competed with a lot of the fine old folks in the race – the race was won by a fit-looking Syracuse boat that included former US Olympic single sculler Don Smith.
Men's Fours w/o Four members of the Harvard light men's 2V took the Crimson's first-ever gold in this event. Coach Linda Muri said the crew was gelling just in time for the race, and that she "thought we could win after watching the heats, especially since they had a good race even though they put their hull in lane seven and their blades in lane five on the way down the course." The crew was able to keep themselves in line today, and won the event ahead of Wisco in second, and Georgia Tech in third.
The Wisco crew that took silver was rowing in a hull named "CRASH;" row2k presented the medals in the event, and remarked on the crew's courage in rowing a coxless boat with such a potentially fateful name. "Well, you should see the bottom of the boat," came the reply.
Men's Varsity Fours The men's varsity four with coxswain, an event made up of all varsity members (the Open Four can include frosh), was won by a Stanford crew that included four walk-ons; the stroke was a water polo player, the three-seat a basketball player, and the bowman a runner. When approached by the Stanford staff on campus, three-man Donnie Simkin stated simply "I'll join only if it will be a good workout." Assured by Stanford coach Jon Allbin that he would get a good workout, Simkin went about making his first adjustment to life as an oarsman: he quit smoking.
Men's Open Fours As noted above, the open four can include a finite number of frosh in the ranks. The winning Washington crew also included two walk-ons; bowman Ricky Bargreen was a quarterback for the Lake Stevens high school squad who, protected by an all-sophomore O-line his senior year, was sacked 42 times. When the UW football squad declined to offer walk-on tryouts this year, Bargreen tried out for the crew, and won a national championship nine months later. The other walk-on, Alan Oriard, is the son of the first Notre Dame football walk-on ever to become the Notre Dame captain; he was also named All-American and All-Pro at tight end. Coach Mike Callahan noted "we knew we had strong guys in the crew, and that if we could get them to match up, they could do something. We weren't sure until the heats, tho, that we were getting there."
Men's Varsity Pairs The Cornell lightweight run for the trophy ended today when Stanford took the prize, stroked by senior Peter Frykman, but the Cornell crew made sure they still made a podium run by taking silver behind Wisconsin.
Men's Freshman Fours Stanford won the first of three gold medals on the day in the frosh four with a one-length victory over Wisco and Cal in the frosh four with. "Each day they improved as a crew, and kept their composure amid some of the tumult at the course," said Stanford coach Jon Allbin. "They got through it by staying as cohesive as possibly, just staying in the tube as best as possible."
(The question was waiting in row2k's inbox when we got back from the regatta: Were there lane advantages today? Whenever there is flow, there will be lane differences, but today the water folks did not open the dam during racing – in fact, they were not able to, as there was too much water for them to be able to do so, so they had to let water spill over the top of the dam naturally. And to the eye, there wasn't very much flow at all – a cross tailwind seemed to be the more salient issue - but several crews racing in lane one really did get dropped from the racing (Navy light men placed sixth, Princeton light women 4th, and Yale heavies 6th); that said, you couldn't see any obvious problems from the shore. I hope that is useful!)
Wrap-up on the semis V8 protest reported yesterday: after being granted a 6:50am Saturday race-off vs. Northeastern for a spot in the grand final, the Syracuse varsity eight finally convened as a group and decided to decline the race-off and withdraw their protest. "The guys felt that, no matter who won the race-off, it would require a championship row from both crews, and neither would be able to go into the afternoon racing and row their best race," Syracuse coach Dave Reischmann said Saturday morning. "While they would have liked to row in the grand final, which was our goal since the beginning of the year, they wanted to go out with their best row, so we decided to withdraw the protest."
Finally, kudos to the regatta folks, who ran a safe and solid regatta under considerably less-than-ideal conditions. Given all the challenges facing the IRA and the ECAC, this is clearly something they do extremely well.