The Cal varsity posted the fastest time of the day, Harvard and Yale reversed their Sprints heat outcome, Washington crews won al five races they entered, Cornell once again showed that they are dangerous in June, the top seed in each heat otherwise took the top spot, and heats racing in the straight boats is still like herding cats; all this and more was to be found on the Cooper River on the first day of racing in the 106th IRA Regatta.
After a tornado watch closed the course to practice yesterday, and heavy rains dumped debris on the river, all was back to normal this morning as partly cloudy conditions, moderate temperatures and an extremely manageable headwind made for solid and fair, if somewhat spread out, competition in all events throughout the day.
The Harvard varsity rolled the dice in more ways that one today; not only did they go full bore after the Brown varsity, racing hard all the way down the course and in so doing avenge their Sprints heats loss to Yale - but they also took the risk that they would be able to pull it off, as the seniors in the crew booked flights back to Boston after the morning heat to make graduation in Cambridge Thursday afternoon. They fly back tomorrow to race the afternoon semi. And what if they hadn't pulled it off? It was either a DNS or a Did Not Board.
Despite their ninth place finish at Sprints, Cornell's speed in June should not really come as a big surprise - recall that last year the Big Red varsity actually won their heat at the IRA. This year they had to settle for second , but were able to grab the second qualifying spot from Princeton, forcing the Tigers to advance through the afternoon reps. Fully three Eastern Sprints finalists had to make it to the finals through the rep, including Columbia and Yale; they were joined by Sprints petite final winner Navy in the fourth rep to make the 12-strong semifinal cut.
Given the volatile nature of semifinal racing, any one of the twelve could detonate a dangerous performance tomorrow ? but on the whole the semifinal draw is more or less balanced from one to the next. Of course Cal and Washington race side by side yet again in the first semi - and do so again in the frosh eight semis. If that's not enough for you, there are two Yale boats in the same semi in the frosh eight, Yale A and Yale B ? you think they might have squared off a few times back in Derby? Not a bad showing for a second boat, which we believe is the frosh lights.
Whereas last week at NCAA's the nervous distraction of choice was fist bumps and holding hands, at the IRA today it was muscle slapping; in one event after another, oarsmen were slapping their thighs, shoulders, arms, chests. Could be a taper setting in, which can make you feel almost itchy; for many of the crews, the taper is pretty much shot by this evening, tho I doubt we've seen and heard the last of the slapping sounds at the start.
The usual local color was to be found at the starting line area, complete with a pretty ferocious dog tussle; racing right in the heart of a vibrant and diverse neighborhood is definitely part of the charm of racing on the Cooper.
Racing resumes Friday morning with the heats of the light women's eight, followed by some reps in the smaller boat, then the full schedule of semis. Good luck to everyone racing, see you on the course.