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Yale edges Harvard by five seconds to win 152nd regatta

Yale heavyweight crew member Thomas Digby waved two Harvard jerseys after the Bulldogs swept all three races in the regatta.Sean D. Elliot/The Day/AP

NEW LONDON, Conn. — This regatta was everything last year’s wasn’t.

Yale defeated Harvard by five seconds, unbelievably close for a 4-mile race, finishing in 18 minutes 56.1 seconds Saturday on the Thames River. The nation’s oldest intercollegiate competition lived up to its billing, as two of the country’s heavyweight programs produced two of their best performances this season.

“That was probably the most incredible race in the history of the regatta,” Yale captain Robert Hurn said. “It was pretty inspirational to watch.”

Hurn was diagnosed with mononucleosis one month ago, forcing him out of competition for the following weeks. He could only participate Saturday in the 1-mile race that preceded the junior varsity and varsity races.

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He watched his teammates cross the finish line from Yale’s lakeside house at Gales Ferry. After the Yale crewmen caught their breath, they paddled toward their camp where college men in navy blazers and women wearing dresses awaited. The eight crewmen assembled on the dock, wrapped their arms around each other in a huddle, and sang to Queen’s “We Are The Champions.”

The scene of revelry encapsulated all that Yale had accomplished this year, and how much the program has progressed. Before 2015, the Crimson had won 14 of the previous 15 regattas.

Swirling winds and choppy waves swallowed Harvard’s shell in the 2016 race, leading to the first no-result in the 151-year history of the event. Yale had taken a sizable lead when the official’s flag was raised, signaling the event’s sudden conclusion.

Neither side was satisfied, with Harvard wanting a rerun and Yale wanting its victory awarded.

“You could tell this year it was pretty bitter from both sides,” Hurn said. “It definitely meant more for the guys who were a part of the no-result last year. This [year] is redemption.”

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The lack of closure heightened the anticipation for this year’s race, as if it needed any more. Yale won the national championships at the IRA regatta last weekend for the first time in program history — though the Bulldogs only started participating in the event in 2003 — and entered Saturday ranked No. 1 in the country. Harvard wasn’t far behind at No. 3.

The skies were clear and the sun beamed down on the quiet Thames River, disparate from last year’s treacherous conditions.

Harvard’s clear strategy was to jump out to a lead by increasing its stroke rate, while Yale elected to conserve its energy during the first third of the race. The Bulldogs kept it close, then gradually extended their lead to a boat length around the midway mark.

It appeared the Harvard crew, which expended so much energy early, would play catch-up for the remainder of the race. But the Crimson rallied to narrow the gap to two seats.

“The push that the Harvard guys made two-thirds of the way into the race is a coach’s dream,” Yale coach Steve Gladstone said.

At the 3-mile marker, Yale gradually extended its lead. The Crimson, though not trailing far behind, couldn’t catch the national champions.

Many of Yale’s heavyweight crewmen — three are seniors and two are juniors— entered the rivalry when it completely favored Harvard. But in the last two years, Yale has reached the peak of college rowing, finishing second in nationals last year and winning it this year.

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“If we had lost today, the season would have been considered a failure,” Yale senior Nate Goodman said. “Because we won, we get to bask in the national title and Eastern Sprints. But you come to Yale to beat Harvard. I think we are just as happy with this win as winning the IRA. I know I am.”


Brad Almquist can be reached at brad.almquist@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bquist13.