The Eastern sprint championships at Washington, D.C. last week shed some belated light on the college crew situation, which has been a hopeless snarl of bad weather and beaten favorites all spring. At the beginning of the season there were three questions to be answered: Could Cornell, national champions in 1955 over the three-mile collegiate course, raise its powerful rowing beat high enough to compete over the 2,000-meter (1.3-mile) distance; could the 1952 Navy crew, eight-oared champions at the last Olympics and currently back in training at the Academy, get into shape in time for the try outs June 28; could Penn, last year's eastern sprint champions over the 2,000-meter course, improve enough to hold off both Cornell and the Navy officers?
Then came the first regattas, and quite suddenly there were a great many more questions. In quick succession, Princeton beat the Navy officers and Pennsylvania. But, just as Princeton Coach Dutch Schoch was beginning to think he had something, his No. 7 man dropped crew to finish a senior thesis. That blow fell two weeks ago, and Schoch was mildly stunned. "We really got hosed," he muttered, "I don't know what in blazes we're going to do."
DARK HORSES, DARK DAYS
Meanwhile a dark horse Yale crew became a contender by winning a tune-up over Boston University, then moving to Philadelphia and beating Penn.
May 20, 1956
Finally there was Cornell, held to 13 days of practice by bad weather but still inherently good enough to beat Navy in a one-mile sprint.
The May 5 Carnegie Cup, which brought together Yale, Cornell and Princeton, promised to be a preview of the eastern sprints—and more. As Russell (Stork) Sanford, Cornell's 6-foot 5-inch, 180-pound coach put it: "Figure whoever wins this race today has the inside track in the East, at least, and perhaps in the Olympics."
Yale, benefiting from continuous practice since February 22 on its protected course, got off in front and rowed handsomely to win by a length and a quarter. Princeton was nowhere—2¾ lengths back at the finish with a ragged performance all along the way.
Besides defeat, Cornell suffered a double humiliation during the Carnegie Cup. One came midway when Cornell seemed to be inching up on Yale. "We're moving," shouted the Cornell cox. "We're catching them."
Bill Becklean, cox of Yale, glanced over with disdain. "The hell you are," he roared.
The second humiliation was a full crab, caught by Cornell only a few yards from the finish, which gave Yale its winning margin of 1¼ lengths.
So Yale was a natural, if shaky, favorite for the eastern sprints. The water along the Potomac that day was standard for this spring—choppy and slate gray. During the trial heats, six of 13 competing colleges qualified, with Yale posting best time—6:23.4.
In the finals, Cornell got off well, a seat or two behind the front-running Yale boat, rowing at 31 strokes a minute. Then began a poker-game test of nerve and strength. Cornell raised the stroke to 32, drew even with Yale and went ahead by half a boat at 1,000 meters. Princeton and Navy at that point were only a length behind the leader. But from here on it was a two-boat race.
Yale raised to 33, drew even. Navy and Princeton faded back. Cornell raised again. As the two shells approached the line it was easy to count the stroke—now up to a frantic 36—but none of the 15,000 onlookers could say which was ahead. Then, in an astonishing sequel to the Carnegie Cup finish, Yale caught a crab just five strokes from home. Cornell won by only that difference: one seat, four to six feet. The winning time was 6:10.
Cornell had more than proven itself over the sprint distance and, with plenty of practice promised by the warming weather, was now a good bet for Melbourne. The prediction looked especially strong when the Navy officers, going into the Potomac for a special time trial, covered the sprint course in a competent but uninspiring 6:22.5.
The coaches were almost unanimous in their praise of Sanford's boat. "It's the biggest and strongest boys who win," said Jim Nesworthy of Boston University, "and Cornell's got 'em. Stork's always had the smoothest looking crew in the country. He's a tremendous technician."
The technician agreed: "We're getting stronger all the time. The boys are still cold from lack of mileage and as a result they're on some days and off others. Today they got on it and stayed on it; and today they did it."
At day's end, however, there was some significant news from the West Coast, where Al Ulbrickson's University of Washington crew outstroked a fine Stanford boat by two lengths in a 2¾-mile race. In the light of Stanford's victory over California the preceding week, Washington was obviously the best on the Coast. And if previous years are any indication, Washington could still cause trouble for Cornell in the June 16 intercollegiates, and perhaps in the Olympic tryouts eleven days later.