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Elite eights cruise at the Head of the Charles

The wind and waves kicked up on Sunday, but Brown’s championship eights stayed the course and finished seventh.

LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF

The wind and waves kicked up on Sunday, but Brown’s championship eights stayed the course and finished seventh.

They were rowing as OTC Amsterdam and Cambridge Boat Club but anyone who’d been around a global regatta recently knew who the players were without a program. The Dutch men’s eight included the gold-medal four from this summer’s world championships and a couple of other Olympians, including 43-year-old Diederik Simon, a five-timer who’d won his gold in 1996. So if there was an age-handicap, Amsterdam had it covered.

And the Cambridge women’s eight was a constellation of the world’s best scullers, from the Czech Republic’s Miroslava Knapkova to New Zealand’s Emma Twigg to Lithuania’s Donata Vistartaite. Their stroke just happened to be Elle Logan, who’d earned two Olympic gold medals with the US eight before going solo this year. “These women know how to move a boat,” testified Logan.

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So they did on a blustery Sunday afternoon, keeping US Rowing’s defending champions in view all the way up the 3-mile course and making up enough elapsed time to dethrone the world titlists by 1.2 seconds and collect the title they thought they’d won last year before a buoy violation did them in.

The Dutch, who started seventh, never saw Harvard and Washington going bow to bow well up ahead of them. Nor did they see US Rowing’s boatload of world medalists, who went off 26th based on last year’s rock-bottom finish, the result of penalties assessed for interfering with Washington. They just kept motoring and upping their rows per minute and outclocked the Americans by 1.48 seconds. “That’s very special,” concluded national team coach Mark Emke after Amsterdam became the first crew from the European continent to win the men’s title in the regatta’s 49-year history. “It’s hard to win this.”

Washington had managed it three times in five years but no college crew had gone back-to-back since Navy won its fourth in a row in 1983. The Huskies, who claimed last season’s national championship, started first but found themselves in a side-by-side showdown with Harvard, which thought it had retained its crown last year until U-Dub prevailed when a buoy penalty was overturned on appeal. This time the Huskies ended up ninth behind Northeastern, Brown, and California, all of whom they’d handled at the IRAs.

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“This is a good start to the season,” said Crimson captain Andrew Holmes, whose youngish seatmates ended up third, less than four-10ths of a second behind the American boat, and collected the new BNY Mellon Cup as the top college finisher.

For the Cambridge entry, which cox Jack Carlson dubbed the “Super Eight” to distinguish it from the men’s “Great Eight” of Octobers past, this was its entire season. During the spring and summer they’d had at each other in Eton and Lucerne and Chungju and this was a lovely opportunity to be a sculling sorority on a sun-splashed day on the Rivah.

It didn’t matter that they’d only had two practice sessions and that half of them had competed on Saturday, with Inge Janssen of the Netherlands and Magdalena Lobnig of Austria teaming up to win the championship double and Knapkova and Twigg finishing third and fourth in the single. Once they settled into a rhythm and put a few bridges behind them the Super Eight was firing on all eight cylinders. “After Weeks [Bridge], I started to feel the boat ramp up and just went with it,” said Logan, who had no trouble regaining her formidable skills with one oar.

The US eight, which included most of the members from the lineup that had won this summer’s world crown by open water, was up by four seconds at the Riverside checkpoint, but the intergalactic scullers made up one of them before the Weeks Bridge and the rest before the Eliot Bridge. From there they hit the accelerator, just as they did individually at the world championships, and picked up their entire margin down the stretch. “When we crossed the finish line there was a lot of huffing and puffing,” testified Logan. But she and her colleagues had proven what all scullers believe — that they can move any boat that floats.

Most of the Dutch men had been here before in other boats but they weren’t quite sure how their composite bunch would perform. “Not end up last,” cracked Olivier Siegelaar, an Olympian who rowed at Cal. They knew all about the Americans, who’d won bronze in both the four and eight at the global regatta. And if they’d checked the record book they would have noticed that whenever Uncle Sam had sent a varsity entry here, it usually won.

Even having to weave its way through traffic the Yanks had a three-second gap on the Dutch at Riverside. But cox Tim van den Ende kept upping the ante and once his guys headed into the final straightaway they went into overdrive. “That was our best part,” reckoned van den Ende. “Every 10 strokes, we went two up. I think the last 500 meters we were at top speed.”

By the finish, Amsterdam had drawn even with their Skadi countrymen, who’d started two places ahead of them. “We were bow to bow, so that was my reference,” the cox said. “I thought we might have done well, but we didn’t know for sure.”

The computer said that nobody did better and none of the vanquished rivals asked for a recount. The Dutch could have rowed as the Hollandaise RC and nobody would have asked to see their credentials. By their medals shall ye know them.

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.
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