The sport of rowing, among all other sports, can claim the greatest continuity with the past. Even the Henley Royal Regatta, encrusted as it is with history, can boast only the fourth longest string of races. The grand-daddy of them all, Doggett's Coat and Badge, has been run regularly since 1715, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race since 1829 and the Wingfield sculls since 1830, all on England's historic Thames. Fifth place, and the happy honor of founding the oldest permanent floating shell game on this side of the Atlantic, belongs to Harvard and Yale.
Last week, with all the pomp and hoorah that befit such an ancient rivalry, Harvard and Yale went at it for the 92nd time on the American Thames in New London, Conn. Harvard, which has won only two regattas all year, wanted the simple satisfaction of beating Yale. But for Yale there was more at stake. They had been promised a postseason trip to Henley and one more crack at Cornell, the only crew that beat them this year. They felt honor bound on the eve of their cruise overseas to defeat Harvard.
Before the race Harvard's Coach Harvey Love did his earnest best to make sure Yale wished they had stayed home. He brought up four oarsmen from the junior varsity and shifted some of the remaining varsity men. Then he sent the new combination sweeping off in a series of time trials. As race day approached, the Harvards improved enough to lead Coach Love to the brink of optimism.
"I think," he said, "we've got the right combination now. They're in good physical shape, they're rowing well and they're in good spirits. That's about all you can ask of a bunch."
Meanwhile, Yale's Coach Jim Rathschmidt maintained a tactful silence. After all, his crew had won the Olympic eight-oared championship last fall, and even though four men from the Olympic boat have since graduated, his time trials were clearly faster than Harvard's. The day of the regatta, however, he did offer this thought: "I expect a tough race. This thing is like the Army-Navy game, in a way. Past performances don't mean a thing."
When the race started, it was obvious that, as most people suspected, Harvey Love was being brave and Jim Rathschmidt was being nice. At the end of the first mile Yale was one length in front. At two miles, they were three lengths ahead. And as the two shells knifed down the narrow lane of water between the shrieking, whistle-tooting yachts lining the course, the gap between them steadily widened. A mile from home, Yale led by five. At this point Harvard made a gallant but hopeless try, raising its stroke to 33. But Yale simply raised its own stroke from 29 to 31, opened more water between the shells and finally shot across the finish line the winner by seven lengths, the biggest victory margin that either school has enjoyed in the past 17 years.
With this thudding triumph behind him, and a trip to England ahead, Jim Rathschmidt permitted himself a quiet smile. But he still wasn't saying much. The man who was doing the talking now was Cornell's Harrison (Stork) Sanford, and he was talking a little like a man with a gun in his back. "We had a bad spell here last week," he fretted, "and we weren't making any time at all. I think we're over it, though," he went on, "but we have our ups and downs. So far the downs have been in practice, and we've been up for the races. But I have to keep watching."
This was strange talk for a man whose crew, off its 1957 record, is the best in the U.S. Cornell hasn't lost a race all season, and they have beaten Yale twice, once by a length and a half and once by a foot. The present varsity, with the exception of one man, has rowed together since their freshman year. And everyone present but Coach Sanford is oozing confidence.
In spite of the record, however, Sanford may turn out to be the only realist in Ithaca. First of all, before he starts thinking about Henley and the Grand Challenge Cup, he has another race to win, namely, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships at Syracuse on June 22. Win or lose at the IRA, Cornell will travel to London. It would be more satisfying to everyone if Cornell arrived on the Thames undefeated. At the moment Sanford isn't too sure they will.
"We've beaten every crew that's entered in the IRA, so it's not going to be easy to fire these boys up," he said. "They're all seniors, and it's old stuff to them. But the IRA is never a picnic, and they're just going to have to be fired up."
What Sanford didn't say but what he surely knows is that if any of the other nine IRA entries should carry off an upset—and Navy's vastly improved crew has a chance of doing just that—the blow to Cornell's morale could very well affect their performance. The morale factor is particularly important because at Henley Cornell will be tackling a hopped-up Yale bunch that has suddenly jelled into a powerful crew. This crew, off the excellent stroking they showed at New London plus the fact that they will leave immediately to train on the Henley course while Cornell must stay on home waters till after the Intercollegiate championships, might well wrap up the 1957 season with one of the most exciting upsets in Henley's 118-year history.