NEW LONDON, Conn. — For Harvard crew, which measures time not in days but decades, it was the beginning of a new era. Charley Butt was in the coach’s launch and the freshmen were rowing in the JV race. But on the Thames River the past was prologue on Saturday afternoon as the Crimson heavyweights continued the dynasty that the late Harry Parker began more than a half-century ago, with its serene and stylish varsity capping a seventh straight sweep of archrival Yale.
“It was going to be a really special one,” captain Andrew Holmes said after Harvard had dunked the Bulldogs by more than 3 lengths in their 4-mile upstream pull, winning by more than 14 seconds in 19:32.3 under a sunny sky with a brisk tailwind ruffling the water.
It was the 14th time in the last 15 years and the 27th in the last 30 that the Crimson had won the nation’s oldest intercollegiate athletic event, and while the victory was decisive, it wasn’t easy. Yale, which hadn’t lost a head-to-head race all season, hung with Harvard until the midway point before losing contact. “We expected them to throw everything at us in the first mile or two and that’s what they did,” said Crimson coxswain Will Hakim. “We just kept attacking.”
The Bulldogs, who’d lost by 6 lengths last year, were determined to hang in this time. Which is why coach Steve Gladstone, who boated two freshmen and three sophomores, took a calculated gamble, moving Hubert Trzybinski, his behemoth sophomore stroke, back to the 5-seat and installing his classmate Peter Tortora, who’d stroked the third varsity at last month’s Eastern Sprints. “It’s been pretty surreal to jump into the heavyweight boat,” said Tortora, who rowed for the freshman lightweights last year.
Gladstone had hoped that the change would provide a more comfortable rhythm, which it did. “I thought they managed the race course as well as they could,” he said. “They didn’t overstroke. They didn’t go nuts in that first 2 miles. Very simply, Harvard was more efficient.”
Efficiency and technique were a hallmark of Butt’s lightweight varsities at Harvard, and they’re essential in the 4-miler. Even with freshman James Johnston subbing for senior Ben Lynton, whose balky back made him an iffy prospect for the full distance, the Crimson were clean and crisp all the way from the railroad bridge to Bartlett Cove. “Just be stubborn and persistent,” Holmes said. “What Harry would have wanted us to do.”
Parker, who died shortly after last year’s race, won his first one in 1963. “There was a special desire today to win one for Charley,” said Hakim, a senior from Belmont. “We said, let’s make Charley 1-0, and that’s what we did.”
The triumph not only finished off a fourth consecutive unbeaten regular season for the Crimson, it also clinched what the oarsmen most wanted — a three-race sweep that would allow them to hoist the traditional broom at Red Top. Once their third varsity held off the Bulldogs by three seconds over 2 miles, they were on their way. Since Yale no longer has a freshman boat, Harvard moved six of theirs into the JV and produced a 17-second triumph over 3 miles.
Taken with Friday’s easy combination boat victory, which allowed Harvard to keep the finish-line rock enrobed in crimson paint, it was a perfect weekend both for transition and continuation. “There were questions before this year,” said Holmes, who’ll be in the four that will defend its Henley crown next month. “Will Harvard be able to continue the way we’re going?”
The Crimson indeed kept its collection of cups and retained its Sprints crown. The only flaw was a fifth-place finish at last weekend’s IRA championships, which was forgotten amid the customary sodden celebration on the dock and another Yale shirt for the collection.
“It’s wonderful that we could accomplish what we have this year, just for all the obvious reasons,” said Butt. “We moved on as we began, following the tenets that H. Parker established, and it’s been a real pleasure.”John Powers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jpowizglobe.