There is nothing like an old grad to inspire a college crewman to his best effort—particularly when the old grad is an admiral in the U.S. Navy and the crewman is a midshipman at Annapolis. Up to a month ago, the best the 1965 Navy varsity crew could produce in a so-so season was one second place, well behind the supermen from Harvard (see cover) in the Adams Cup. Then Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman, an oldtime (1933) Navy oarsman himself, took over as the new superintendent of the Academy.
This is an article from the June 28, 1965 issue
Whether it was the advent of an old crew buff as top man or merely the fact that spring exams were over may never be determined. The simple fact is that, once the Admiral appeared, Navy began to look alive. That very day, the Middies went out on the Severn River and beat the crew sox off the University of Wisconsin. By last week, as the best college boats in the land (minus two) assembled on New York's Onondaga Lake to contest the Intercollegiate Rowing Association's annual championships, Admiral Kauffman's influence had spread through the fleet like a call to duty from John Paul Jones himself. Sweeping the lake clean, Navy's freshman and junior varsity rowers each won their events by a length and a half while Navy's varsity held off a driving finish by heavily favored Cornell to regain a championship it had not won in more than a decade. "I can't say that I'm unhappy," said Navy Coach Paul Quinn.
There was a moment toward the end of the tense varsity race when it seemed to observers on the shore that Cornell was bound to catch up to the Middies. Then, 12 strokes from the finish, Cornell's No. 6 oar caught a crab. In any case, said Cornell Coach Stork Sanford, "I think we used the wrong strategy altogether. We never thought Navy would improve as much as they did."
The suspense that marked the last 30 seconds of the 15-boat varsity event at the IRA gave the rowing on Onondaga Lake a spice of excitement that was completely lacking on Connecticut's Thames River, where the other big rowing event of the week was taking place. Harvard and Yale men have always insisted on ignoring the rest of the rowing fraternity by holding a private championship of their own and referring to it as simply The Boat Race. In its 100th edition last week, however, The Boat Race was a boat race in name only. Starting off in a literal but nonetheless symbolic clap of thunder and Hash of lightning, Harvard's varsity pulled away from an outclassed Eli crew at the start and simply kept rowing at an easy pace until the end of four miles when they crossed the finish line more than 10 lengths in the lead.
Since Harvard has been the main topic of the current rowing season, its absence was felt at the IRA.
"It does seem a shame," Coach Jim Lemmon of the deposed champion California Golden Bears said, "that such a fine crew as Harvard wouldn't come and join a blue-ribbon classic like this. I know they have their traditional meeting with Yale, but it seems to me that when 15 schools feel it right to meet for laurels in one afternoon the other two should join the competition."
Coach Lemmon may have a point, but in 1965, anyway, when the Harvard crew shows up, competition is likely to vanish.
NEVER BEFORE-AT HARVARD OR IN HISTORY
Fine crews are no rarity at Harvard, where the rowing tradition goes back officially to 1852, and who knows how far beyond that in legend. Any sunny afternoon on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Mass. you're likely to find some Crimson crew buff willing to sit for hours on the worn yet sturdy green benches of Newell Boat House and rhapsodize about the great Harvard crews of the past: the famed 1931-1933 boat stroked by Gerry (Killer) Cassedy; the varsity eights launched by Coach Tom Bolles in 1939, 1947 and 1950, which between them beat most of the best crews in the country and England as well; the 1959 crew coached by Harvey Love and stroked by Perry Boyden, which went to Henley and brought the Grand Challenge Cup back to Cambridge for the fourth time in 45 years. But even the most enthusiastic bench-sitter has difficulty finding enough superlatives to describe the Harvard crew that beat Yale last week—almost effortlessly—by one of the largest margins in the 100-year history of this ancient rowing rivalry.
Rank outsiders like bluff Dutch Schoch, who coaches rival Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania's Joe Burk, dean of current crew coaches, have called this year's Harvard eight the finest crew of all time. Says Schoch, "There are other crews in the country just as strong, just as smooth, but Harvard's better." Says Burk, "This is the greatest American crew there has ever been, college or club."
How come this extraordinary superiority? Some experts argue that it stems from the new technique introduced at Harvard by young Coach Harry Parker. This style of rowing is patterned on a system used by Germany's great Ratzeburg crew and later adopted by last year's American Olympic champions, Vesper Boat Club of Philadelphia. Instead of an oarsman pulling his sweep through the water at a constant rate, then sliding forward more slowly and pausing before the catch as in the old style, Harvard's rowers combine their stroke, their recovery and their catch in a single, short, virtually uninterrupted motion. As practiced in Europe, this system involves a high rate of stroking. But the rate is only incidental to the style. Harvard, rowing at a fairly low but firm rate of 33 strokes a minute, can still beat boats stroking in spurts of 38 to 40.
Until Harvard adopted this style, not another major American college crew used the European system. "The Monday following the Compton Cup regatta in May," says Princeton's Schoch, whose eight was thrashed in that race by Harvard, "I started using the system even though it was the middle of the season. You don't have to get hit in the face twice with a wet mop, do you?"
Other experts agree that the new technique is indeed important to Harvard's success, but give even more credit to the Crimson's imported shell. Harvard has a total of 26 eight-oared shells to choose from, but the one they have used almost exclusively this year is a sleek Staempfli made in Switzerland. Three and a half feet shorter than the standard American Pocock, the Staempfli is two inches narrower and an inch deeper. Parker has already ordered a second Staempfli, but since the first has been shipped to Henley to await Harvard's appearance there, the Yale race was rowed and won in a Pocock.
Along with the European technique and the imported shell, Harvard's phenomenal success has been attributed to the English oars it uses and the Germanic way it sets them up on the boat. Lighter and stiffer than American oars and with broad, shovel-shaped blades, Harvard's Ayling oars are set on the boat so that Nos. 4 and 5 are both on the starboard side. The idea behind this is a reduction of the turning effect of the conventional oar arrangement so that the coxswain does not have to use his rudder to keep the boat on a straight course.
Oars, boat, techniques, seating arrangements—there is little doubt that all these things have helped Harvard, but they have not in themselves made a great crew. The crew itself did that. As Parker's colleague, Track Coach Bill McCurdy puts it, "Those boys could win most of their races pulling an old barge with broomsticks." Parker himself is inclined to agree. "They're an outstanding group of oarsmen," he says. "They'd be good whatever they had to work with."
The 1965 Harvard varsity weighs an average 188 pounds, stands 6 feet 4. Leading them is 22-year-old Stroke Geoff Picard, a California body surfer who looks the part. Geoff never rowed in his life before going to Harvard, but he learned fast. "He gets better every year," says the coach. "He's got an excellent sense of rhythm and enough strength to sustain it." "Picard," wrote one crew writer, "drives along without any deviation or slackening to sit on a lead. Against MIT and Navy, Harvard rowed for more than a mile and a half against a head wind in choppy water at exactly 33 strokes a minute—not 32 or 33½." Harvard's current stroke's place in history alongside Cassedy and Boyden seems assured, and the seven oarsmen who row with him are just as strong. When the Harvard boat moves, Bob Whitney at No. 7, Paul Gunderson at No. 6, Brian Clemow, No. 5, Jim Tew, No. 4, Tom Pollack, No. 3, Bob Schwarz, No. 2 and Bowman Geoff Gratwick all match Picard's strength and rhythm while Coxswain John Unkovic calls the cadence until the whole Harvard boat is a metronome of driving power. It's hard when watching to believe the men are mortal and not metal.
This cybernetic precision is the magic ingredient introduced into Harvard rowing by Parker, a comparative youngster of 29 who came to Cambridge without fanfare only four and a half years ago. Ted Washburn, last year's varsity coxswain who is now the freshman coach, is an undeviating believer in Parker, but when asked how Parker accomplishes his wonders, Washburn replies: "I'm still trying to figure it out." So is almost everyone else.
Harry Parker knew nothing whatever about rowing when he went to the University of Pennsylvania from East Hartford, Conn. in 1953. But once there he was spotted by Joe Burk, who is always looking for likely oars. Parker weighed a skinny 174 pounds, but Burk gave him a job rowing number two man in the Penn heavyweight crew. "I found rowing was right up my alley," says Parker. "All I had to do was work hard." When not rowing, Parker worked hard enough at his books to get a degree in philosophy with marks that prompted Penn to submit his name, unsuccessfully, for a Rhodes scholarship. Later, he spent 18 months in the Navy thundering around in a destroyer as an ensign. Then he discovered that officers could apply for permission to train for the Pan American or Olympic games. His application accepted, Parker transferred to Philadelphia for training as a sculler under his old mentor, Joe Burk.
In 1959 Sculler Parker won the American single sculls championship and a gold medal at the Pan American Games, and was picked as the U.S. sculling representative at the 1960 Olympics. He didn't win in Rome, but he finished a creditable fifth. "It seemed inevitable," he says, "that if a crew coaching opportunity came up I would go for it." After Parker's release from the Navy, the opportunity came. Tom Bolles, then athletic director, and Crew Coach Harvey Love, both of whom had watched Parker operate at Henley, offered him the job of coaching the freshman crews at Harvard.
Parker arrived in Cambridge green as grass and quiet as growing wheat. His first year didn't augur well for the future. The freshmen won once and lost three times. The next year, however, they won three and lost only one. Things were looking up. Then Harvey Love died and Parker inherited his job as head coach. "A lot of people were ready for a catastrophe when Harry took over," says Student Manager Chris Kirkland, "but it never came." Instead, Varsity Coach Parker produced a 3-1 record his first time out and in 1964 did still better. Harvard won every race except the one they most wanted—the Olympic trials that sent Vesper off to Tokyo.
College and club rowing being things apart in the U.S., Harvard and Vesper have not raced each other this year. If all goes as expected, however, they will meet at England's Henley—and this time the results should be quite different. Parker's 1965 varsity has not only beaten everyone in sight but lowered records right and left. The record for the Comp-ton Cup on Princeton's Lake Carnegie had never dropped by any amount greater than 10 seconds until last May. Then Engineer Parker silently oiled up his machine and the record went down to 8:15—a full 20 seconds below the old mark. A brisk tail wind helped that day but, as Dutch Schoch said afterward, "This is like a shotputter heaving the shot 80 feet, huh?" Not that Parker thought the Compton record particularly noteworthy. The one he splits a grin on is the record Harvard set on its home waters in the first race of the season. Rowing under the usual murky Charles River conditions, Harvard still managed to lower the old time by 10 seconds. "On the Carnegie the wind helped a little," says Parker, "but on the Charles the boys got there because they pulled their way." The closest anyone has come to catching Harvard this year was at the Eastern Sprints when Cornell finished 2½ lengths back. Before that, no one got closer than five.
Added to all the other reasons for the excellence of this year's varsity is the fact that seven of the rowers were in last year's varsity boat. And, finally, there is the rigorous tuning routine that Parker has subjected his oarsmen to. Parker employs an interval system of rowing practice. Instead of rowing hard for a set period, then resting, then starting again as crews used to do, Parker's men row practice runs at various speeds for set intervals—with no stops in between. Whenever the Charles is free of ice the crew follows this routine. When the river is icebound, the rowers repair to the big boathouse on Storrow Drive that looks as grim and grand as an 1890 railroad depot. On one end is a huge hall simply called "the tanks." In the middle of the hall, apparently afloat, is a concrete shell complete with sliding seats, oars and rigging and surrounded by flowing water. All around are mirrors in which the oarsmen can watch their style as they work out. When they are not working out in the tanks, Parker has them trotting up and down the many steps of Harvard Stadium, doing calisthenics or working out in the "torture room."
This chamber of horrors was once a comfortable lounge high in the boat-house where Crimson oarsmen could relax from a hard day's row, study, watch the traffic on the Charles or contemplate the many trophies and plaques won by their predecessors. Then Harry Parker redecorated the place. He carpeted the floor with a padded mat held down by monstrous barbells, and he spoiled the river view with a row of racks that would make the Marquis de Sade grin. One is designed to develop leg muscles, another arms, a third backs. Most are complicated arrangements of pulleys, wires, weights and angle irons, but one is not. It consists of a weight suspended by a piece of string from a short length of steel bar. By holding the bar at arm's length and rolling the string up and down as if rolling a newspaper over and over again, Parker's oarsmen develop wrists as thick and tough as a sailor's winch.
Seven of this year's supercrew are graduating and will not have to subject themselves to these tortures another year. But behind these veterans are a bunch of freshmen, sophomores and juniors that seems certain to bother rival coaches for years to come. There were more than a hundred upperclassmen vying for seats in the varsity shell this year and, while the new freshman class may not be as deep as this year's senior class, it does, according to Parker, "have good potential." For a man of Parker's taciturnity, such a statement is almost braggadocio. But his years of success at Harvard have given Parker a new confidence that was lacking when he first came. There is a sureness in his coaching that was not there before.
He still gets his messages across with the minimum use of words, however. Leaning one elbow on his knee, chin cupped in hand, he rides the bow of his coaching launch up and down the Charles, endlessly watching every twitch of every blade, every action of every oarsman. Occasionally he raises a battered crimson megaphone and murmurs something. A listener six inches away hears none of it, but the rowers hear and they watch the coach's left hand carefully as it draws patterns in the air like a maneuvering airplane. These describe the way the oars should go. Up and down the Charles, under bridges, past anchored boats, the shell glides. Only the click, click of the oarlocks, the splash of oars and the cox coughing into his megaphone breaks the silence. Sometimes Parker murmurs in perfect time with the stroke, "Move. Moove. Mooove. Moooove." And they move. There is a wordless rapport between this man and the men who row for him. They seem to sense, without being told, what they must do most of the time. At other times, when talk is needed, they listen. "This crew," says Manager Chris Kirk-land, "has enough confidence in Harry to work on his terms. They know how closely he studies the situation, so they know he knows what he's talking about. He has a will for precision. You don't have to get it out fast, but you have to get it out accurately."
Before a Harvard race the silence is overwhelming. There are no last-minute instructions on how to row, no chalk talk to confuse the men. "We don't have to say very much," admits Parker. "Everything's all understood. Generally, all I have to do is push a button."
The thing that every other college crew coach in the country would like to know is: Where can he get a button like Harry Parker's?