GOLD RIVER, Calif. — The Yale heavyweight crew program continues to make history — even 165 years into its existence. The latest addition to the Bulldogs’ long list of achievements came in dramatic fashion Sunday afternoon on Lake Natoma, as the varsity eight boat edged top-seeded Washington in the Grand Final for the IRA National Championship. This is the school’s first IRA title; the event dates back to 1895 and Yale crew dates back to 1852.
The Bulldogs have made steady progress towards this goal in recent years. In the seven seasons that Steve Gladstone has been Yale’s Craig W. Johnson ’68 Head Coach of Heavyweight Crew, the team has gradually built the speed and depth necessary for success at IRAs. Sunday saw all three Yale boats place in the top four, with each boat finishing higher than it ever had before in Gladstone’s tenure.
The Bulldogs managed to accomplish that feat even with senior captain Rob Hurn sidelined; freshman Jonathan Winter stepped up from the second varsity to fill Hurn’s two seat in the varsity boat. Joining Winter in the victorious varsity boat were junior coxswain Grant Louis, senior stroke Stephan Riemekasten, junior seven seat Sholto Carnegie, sophomore six seat Charlie Elwes, junior five seat Paul Jacquot, senior four seat Nate Goodman, freshman three seat Thomas Digby and senior bowman Ollie Wynne-Griffith.
As winners of Eastern Sprints for the third time in a row (also a first in school history) and having won the Rowe Cup for overall supremacy at Sprints for the first time since 1979, the Bulldogs had certainly accomplished much already this season. Other significant achievements in recent years included the program’s first-ever victories at Henley, the Head of the Charles and the San Diego Crew Classic.
But the Bulldogs were still underdogs heading into Sunday’s Grand Final, seeded third behind Washington and Cal. They had finished second to the Huskies in Saturday’s semis, albeit by less than half of a second. The Huskies also had recent history on their side, having won IRAs five times in the last six years and seven times in the last 10 years.
“The guys rowed a brilliant race [Sunday],” said Gladstone. “The day before they rowed a very strong race; the margins were hundredths of seconds. It’s a testament to their durability to be able to deal with, and successfully complete, races of that intensity and win all the marbles on the table. It’s great.”
Yale set the tone for the Grand Final early. After an aggressive start by Cal gave the Bears a brief lead, the Bulldogs rowed out to a multiple-seat lead on Washington and No. 4 Harvard by the 500 meter mark. They pushed the lead out to four seats by the halfway mark, when Harvard started to fall off the pace and Washington emerged as the toughest remaining threat. The Huskies made a race of it in the final 500, but the Bulldogs held them off at the end to claim the Varsity Challenge Cup — winning by less than a tenth of a second. Yale’s unofficial time was 5:29.900, Washington’s was 5:29.969. Harvard took third.
“It was a great race,” said Louis. “It was well-executed. That was exactly what we wanted to do. Right in the first 1,500 meters we were in our gondolas, racing our piece and doing exactly what we have been trained to do and executing. It was automatic. It was good off the line. Coming into those last 250 meters, we had given it a lot to get out to that lead. We didn’t finish as well as we could have, but hey — it was enough.”
The win was significant not just for Yale, but also for all teams on the East Coast — prior to this year the last time a team east of Wisconsin won IRAs was 2005 (Harvard). The Bulldogs had come tantalizingly close to victory last year, placing second behind Cal.
“It’s good to bring it back to the East Coast,” said Jacquot. “It’s been a while. It’s the first time for Yale, so that’s emotional … It wasn’t a great start [to the race] … We tried to keep going as far as we could for as long as we could. At the end we were on the right side, so that’s pretty nice.”
The varsity eight’s win culminated what was already a successful day for Yale, with impressive finishes from the Bulldogs’ other two boats. The third varsity, seeded No. 4 and coming off a second-place finish in Saturday’s semifinals, raced first. The Bulldogs saw the top three crews in that race — No. 1 Washington, No. 2 Harvard and No. 3 Cal — start to separate from the pack early. Washington took the lead near the 750 meter mark, followed by Harvard, with Cal and Yale battling for third. By the final 500, Washington had a lead of almost a length on Harvard. The Huskies kept full control of the race through the finish line. Cal wound up edging Yale by less than a second for the bronze medal, with Harvard taking silver.
Yale’s second varsity, also seeded fourth, was next on the water for the Bulldogs. No. 1 Washington once again took control of the race early, but No. 3 Princeton provided a challenge early from lane six. Yale wound up battling with No. 2 Cal and No. 6 Harvard for third throughout much of the race. A push by Washington late in the middle 1,000 left Princeton back with the pack, and Cal eventually edged both the third-place Tigers and the fourth-place Bulldogs for second place. Just .104 of a second separated those three teams. Washington took the Kennedy Cup as the second varsity champion.
Washington’s wins in the second and third varsities helped the Huskies claim the Ten Eyck Championship for overall supremacy at IRAs.
Yale now turns its attention to the Yale-Harvard Regatta, America’s oldest intercollegiate sporting event, which takes place next Saturday on the Thames River in Connecticut.
Varsity 8 Grand Final (unofficial)
1 Yale 5:29.900
2 Washington 5:29.969
3 Harvard 5:33.455
4 Princeton 5:33.786
5 Cal 5:36.260
6 Brown 5:36.950
Second Varsity 8 Grand Final (unofficial)
1 Washington 5:38.654
2 Cal 5:40.720
3 Princeton 5:40.777
4 Yale 5:40.824
5 Harvard 5:41.188
6 BU 5:52.008
Third Varsity 8 Grand Final (unofficial)
1 Washington 5:47.289
2 Harvard 5:49.357
3 Cal 5:50.915
4 Yale 5:51.626
5 Princeton 5:52.739
6 Navy 5:54.981