The Harvard lightweight crew suffered adversity this year in its dual loss to Navy and a fourth-place finish at Eastern Sprints. Nevertheless, this season ended like every other odd year since 1991—with the Crimson on top.
Harvard continued its bizarre streak on Saturday by winning the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) National Championship regatta on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
“It is kinda funny, but when it comes down to it, we just wanted to win,” captain Nick Blannin said. “It is known around the league that it’s been an odd trend.”
The Crimson posted a time of 5:54.94 in the Grand Final, two seconds ahead of its nearest competitor, Columbia. Princeton followed in third (6:06.29) and Navy, who beat Harvard in dual competition earlier this season, pulled in for fourth place (6:07.04).
The lightweights’ very presence in the final was enough to clinch the Ten Eyck Cup for the Harvard and Radcliffe crews for scoring the most points in the regatta.
The Crimson had seen four of the five boats in the final—Columbia, Georgetown, Cornell and Princeton—and the fifth, Delaware, did not pose a challenge as the Fighting Blue Hens pulled in 14 seconds after Harvard.
The Crimson varsity boat fell back a couple seats off the start, but pulled ahead by the 500-meter mark. Knowing of the Lions’ fast sprint at the finish, Harvard did not just sit on its lead.
“I saw that we were up 500 meters into the race and I just told the guys that we were up and that we just had to keep pushing it because Columbia is really strong in the last 500 [meters] of the race,” senior coxswain Jessie Tisch said.
Utilizing a strong middle 1000 meters, the Crimson extended its advantage to a boat’s length. The Lions made their notorious push at the end, but only managed to take a seat before Harvard responded to extend its margin back to open water.
“We’ve been a really good crew at being able to grind away and set a pace that our opponents can’t hang with,” Blannin said.
Upon crossing the finish line, there was no doubt that the Crimson boat was the champion after controlling the course of the race.
“[Our reaction] wasn’t one of disbelief—everyone in the boat knew we could do it,” Blannin said. “It was more a reaction of relief that we finally showed everyone the speed that we knew that we had. We’re just happy that we got a chance to set the record straight.”
That Harvard had not medaled at Sprints had been particularly bitter given the unequal racing conditions imposed on half of the lanes due to a windstorm, and the desire to rectify the Eastern results fueled the Crimson during the ensuing weeks of practice.
“I felt very cheated after Sprints,” Tisch said. “We didn’t have a terrible race, but we knew that we should have gotten better than fourth place at Sprints. I think the guys and certainly I really wanted to go out and show everyone that Sprints was a fluke.”
“It helped that we weren’t working against a wind that not everyone was working against,” Blannin said. “We felt that we put on a lot of speed through training in between the two races and we came together as a boat.”