WORCESTER — It was with 500 meters to go during last year’s Eastern Sprints that Brown made its move, rowing furiously to overtake top-seeded Harvard by .3 seconds in one of the closest finishes in the event’s 68-year history.
Which made it fitting on Sunday, with those same 500 meters remaining on Lake Quinsigamond, that Harvard captain James O’Connor first knew beyond any doubt that no one would be catching the Crimson.
Despite a consistent headwind, Harvard’s heavyweight crew finished the 2,000-meter course with a time of 5 minutes 56.72 seconds, more than five seconds ahead of Brown (6:01.93) and seven up on third-place Northeastern (6:03.75).
“Given what happened last year, we were really aware of [Brown’s] ability to close out a race,” said O’Connor, whose team entered Sunday ranked No. 2 nationally. “When I saw that we were ahead by a length with 500 to go, I knew we had it.
“We went out hard and fast and were fairly relentless,” the senior continued. “We really pushed through the middle part of the race and were motivated by what happened last year.”
The varsity win gave the Crimson heavyweight crew its fourth consecutive Rowe Cup, snapping a 38-38 tie with Brown. With the win, O’Connor’s class became the fourth at Harvard to win four straight Rowe Cups, and the first since 1976.
Harvard, Brown, and Northeastern each got off to strong starts, but by the midway point of the race it was clear to the many spectators who braved the afternoon raindrops that the real race was between the Bears and Huskies for second.
“They’re an exceptional crew,” said Harvard heavyweight coach Harry Parker, who has been with the varsity program for 51 years. “It’s hard to compare one year’s team to another, but they’re one of the strongest. It’s been very close between Harvard and Brown for several years. We’re lucky to have come out on top.”
Harvard’s lightweight varsity squad also had a strong showing, holding off Yale in the final race of the day. Harvard closed an early gap and managed to pull away in the final 500 meters.
“It was a top-notch effort because they were strong in all the phases of the race,” said Harvard lightweight coach Charley Butt, whose crew finished with a time of 6:03.61. “There weren’t any apparent weaknesses and that sort of consistency speaks for their age and their success in the past.”
Yale’s second-place finish helped its lightweight crew claim the Jope Cup, with a combined team score of 33 points, 1 ahead of second-place Harvard (32) and 2 up on Cornell (31).
With O’Connell’s heavyweight class graduating, Harvard showed that it has reinforcements on the way when it also claimed the freshman heavyweight championship in a time of 6:12.38.
The Crimson freshmen used a strong kick late to edge out Brown by just under 2.5 seconds.
“I thought they attacked in the first 1,000 really well,” said Harvard freshman heavyweight coach William Boyce, who was still dripping wet after taking a celebratory jump in the lake. “Our plan was to keep close to the Brown crew. We knew that if we could stay within striking distance that [we] have a good sprint.
“In that early 1,000 they kept themselves in range and then they turned it on in that second 1,000, and were able to take the lead. They’re just a strong group of guys.”