Time was when the Head Of The Charles Regatta was Uncle Sam’s victory lap, a chance for the men’s eight to show the flag and give everyone else a world-class tutorial. Between 1994 and 2007 the star-spangled boat won the championship event 11 times, nine of them in a row.
Then came a lost decade when the Great Eight sculling all-stars or collegians took the trophy as US Rowing either sent development boats or nobody at all. This time, with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, the Yanks brought their full varsity and left everyone else in their wake. Just like old times.
“I’ve been telling everybody all along that they’re pretty even and I don’t think you get any more even than what we saw there,” coach Mike Teti said Sunday afternoon after his two eights finished 1-2 ahead of Yale’s national champions with the ‘B’ entry stroked by Harvard ace Clark Dean nipping the ‘A’ boat by .067 seconds in 13 minutes and 32.283 seconds. “It bodes well for the team.”
The American women did the same with the ‘A’ crew stroked by Molly Bruggeman edging the ‘B’ boat by just less than a second in 15:05.842. “We decided that we were going to make two even lineups,” said Katelin Guregian, who coxed the ‘B’ entry. “You tell me — a second apart? Pretty even.”
It was the first time since 2007, the last time that both crews went on to medal at the Olympics, that the men’s and women’s crews had retained their Head crowns and the closeness of the finishes was a promising omen. “I keep saying let’s build one boat at a time,” said Teti. “We have two pretty decent boats.”
Though the men’s ‘A’ boat comprised seven members of the crew that finished fifth at last month’s global regatta and earned an automatic ticket to next year’s Games, Teti had reckoned the crews to be roughly equal during their Oakland practices. But their starting assignments gave a decided advantage to the ‘A’ boat, which was off the line first in the 30-entry field and thus had clear water and an unimpeded view of their pursuers.
The ‘B’ boat, which included up-and-comers like the 19-year-old Dean, Liam Corrigan, Chris Carlson, and Alex Miklasevich, started seventh and had to work its way through traffic all the way along the three-mile upstream course.
“It was pretty chaotic out there but a lot of fun,” said Dean, who stroked the US four to a fifth-place finish at the world regatta. “Sure, it probably would have been better to start first and have a clear course but it’s always more fun to be in the thick of it. It makes the race go by quicker. It’s a lot more exciting to have to keep your wits about you and be looking around constantly and just be ready for anything.”
The killer ‘B’s made their move along Dead Man’s Curve, the sweeping turn leading to the Eliot Bridge, as cox Colette Lucas-Conwell deftly threaded the shell between Harvard and Italy’s Fiamme Gialle. “We caught Harvard on that big turn before Cambridge Boat Club,” said Dean. “Then we had to manage to be in the inside of the turn through Eliot Bridge then pop over to the other side and deal with the Italians after.”
From there it was a two-minute sprint to the finish, then the wait for the computerized timer to sort things out. “You just check the results online and refresh it as more stuff comes in,” said Dean. “It slowly starts to become a reality as more boats finish and more chances of you being beaten go away.”
The women, who’d won the world bronze medal, let the coxswains draw up the lineup, then tossed a coin to decide which boat would get the No. 1 bow and which would get No. 3. The ‘A’ boat, which included three members of the world eight, drew the first slot. “At first we thought, we want to race in bow 3 so we can chase people down,” said Kristine O’Brien, who rowed in the 5-seat. “But we decided we wanted to row bow 1 and just get out into clean water and get to work.”
The ‘A’ boat led at every checkpoint but always by less than two seconds. “My boat would have won if we didn’t have to row in Stanford’s wake for two thirds of the race and weave in and out,” said Guregian.
The results will be lovely fodder for intramural banter during winter training in Princeton as the women prepare to go for an unprecedented fourth straight Olympic title in July. “We have practice again tomorrow,” said O’Brien “We’re just rowing through. Eyes on the prize — and now there’s next summer.”
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.