Going into the 107th IRA regatta, the most obvious change is the venue: for the first time, the IRA will take place on the West Coast, at Lake Natoma in Sacramento. Row2k has reported on the full slate of changes, and as with anything in flux, most issues beyond 2009 have not yet been decided. The number of events has also been reduced, which will arguably make for a tighter, leaner regatta, but the loss of the small boat events is certainly lamentable at the purist's level, at the very least.
In addition, the setup of the regatta may have (at least inadvertantly) thinned out the Men's Varsity Lightweight 8 event, as that race is now listed as a 7-boat final-only. Because the IRA now excludes non-Varsity program schools, invites in the lightweight eights were extended to schools that could not accept them; thus the National Championship race will come down to a single shot for 7 EARC crews.
As contentious and tension-filled as the organizational aspect of the regatta has been, the racing leading up to these championships has been wild and unpredictable. As has been noted here and elsewhere, every crew in the mix for the national title in the Varsity Eight has at least one loss; determining a clear favorite is nearly impossible.
Running down the contenders, Cal and Washington have traded blows on the West Coast, with Cal winning the Crew Classic and Pac-10s, while Washington took a highly charged dual meet on the Cut in Seattle. Cal is the #1 seeded crew going into the regatta, while Washington is #5. Stanford has run most of their western foes close, and takes the #2 seed going into IRA on the strength of a very close (.3) second place to Cal at Pac-10s. Harvard, at #3, finished 3rd to Cal and Washington in San Diego, and second to Brown at Eastern Sprints.
After Cal, Stanford and Harvard, things are muddy and very, very close. Wisconsin, the defending champs, are seeded #4; their only loss since 2007 was their 3rd place at Eastern Sprints in late May. With the aforementioned UW Huskies at #5, an up-and-down Brown crew runs at #6. Brown shocked the field in all events at Eastern Sprints, winning the V8, 2V8, F8, 2F8, and V4, but were upset by BU a week after Sprints, perhaps showing how tight this field really is. BU is at #7, and a solid Cornell crew is seeded at #8.
Seeding for the V8 lanes is run slightly differently at IRA than at Sprints and other seeded regattas, with the #1 seed drawing #8, #2 drawing #7, and so forth. Thus, the opening heat pairings on Thursday (with two going to the semis and everyone else headed to the reps) are Cal/Cornell, Stanford/BU, Harvard/Brown and Washington/Wisconsin.
In the 2V, the top six crews are seeded. Washington, the Pac-10 champs are seeded first, ahead of the Sprints Champs Brown. Cal, Wisconsin, surprise Sprints bronze medallists BU and Harvard round out the seeds, with UW/Harvard, Brown/BU and Cal/Wisconsin the heats pairings. Fireworks are likely here, as the JV progression is winner only direct to final, everyone else to the reps.
The Freshman Eight sees the top seed also claimed by Washington; the Husky frosh absolutely annihilated the field at PAC-10s, winning by nine seconds. Sprints champs Brown are second, followed by Harvard, Cal, Cornell and Wisconsin. Washington/Wisconsin, Bown/Cornell and Harvard/Cal see each other in the heats, the most interesting matchup (as often happens) would seem to be the Harvard/Cal tilt at 3/4 for one spot directly to the final.
The IRA continues to run championship events in the Men's Varsity and Open Fours events. The Varsity Four was opened up to crews that did not qualify as teams in the three eights events, so there's a more diverse mix of crews entered. For the record, an "Open Four" is defined as follows:
The Men’s "OPEN" 4-Oared With Coxswain event is limited to a crew whose lineup includes at least one freshman/upper class novice oarsman and at least one upper class oarsman and is limited to schools that enter both a Heavyweight Varsity Eight, and a Heavyweight Freshman Eight.
Though it has not been an issue in recent years, the regatta also has a strict prohibition on freshman competing at the Varsity level, ie. in the V8, 2V8 or V4.
The final championship event of the regatta is the Women's Lightweight, where as of this writing, eight crews are entered. Wisconsin are the two-time defending champs, and have won four of the last five national titles, and with a convincing win at Sprints look to be the class of the field.
It's forecast to be much more pleasant this weekend than it was two weeks ago for the Pac-10s, where temps hit 100 degrees and higher. Temps in the 70s and light winds are on tap for just about all of the national championship racing.
Check out full Thursday schedule of racing here.