Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Thursday, June 12, 2014

One Up for Charley Butt – When Crimson Takes All

The hopes were high at the Yale camp this year to finally, after a six-year wait, claim The Sexton Cup for the Varsity Heavyweights at the 149th Harvard – Yale Regatta which was held on Saturday, 7 June, on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. (The river is pronounced so it rhymes with ‘James’.) It seemed maybe a bit too optimistic, as Harvard had previously somewhat easily taken care of whatever the Bulldogs had thrown at them for the last decade. Last time Yale Varsity Heavyweights won was in 2007 (and before that in 1999), their 2nd Varsity (Junior Varsity, JV) also won in 2007 and their Freshmen in 2006, otherwise the victories were all crimson-coloured, which have been shown by the red-painted ‘Rock’, which is just before the finish line at Bartlett Cove. Traditionally, the Rock bears the colour of the winning ‘combination crew’, who races on Friday, and this year Harvard won this race again. As the Rock has not been blue for a long time, there are now spectators at the regatta who think that the Rock is permanently red with a big white ‘H’ painted on it.

The ‘Rock’

Nevertheless, Coach Steve Gladstone, who is now in his fourth season training the Bulldogs, or Eli's, as Yale is also called, saw progress in his crews this season and felt they were on the right track. For the first time since 2006, Yale made it to the final of the IRA National Championships a week prior to this regatta (they finished sixth). Undoubtedly, there was also the possibility that the Crimson had got their boat rocked after only finishing fifth at the IRA Championships (after otherwise having had a victorious season), which was a great disappointment to them all. They also have a new coach, Charley Butt, who had taken over the position as the Thomas Bolles Head Coach for Harvard Men’s Crew after the legendary Coach Harry Parker had died of cancer on 25 June, three weeks after last year’s regatta.

Parker’s incredible 44 victories, out of 51 seasons as the Crimson coach, must have scarred Yale crews throughout the years, even if the Bulldogs were unaware of it.

Although new to the heavyweights, Coach Butt was not all that ‘new’ to Harvard. He had breathed Crimson air for almost three decades, as the Harvard men’s lightweight coach, and he is known for being one of the best rowing and sculling technicians in the country. Whatever Yale thought about their chances to win a cup or two this year, the 149th Regatta, as a Boston newspaper put it, ‘turned into an old-fashioned Butt-kicking’ event with Harvard coming out on top in every race.

More than the usual number of spectators and ‘visitors’ had gathered at Red Top’s boathouse last Saturday to watch the races, although you only actually see the crews coming up the river the last mile of the course. Of course, there were the regular numbers of pretty girlfriends of the oarsmen, and the rowers’ parents and a few grandparents, but also a good amount of ‘old oars’ who had rowed for Harvard way back when, including some of Harry’s old boys, who had arrived from near and far to honour him. A memorial had been built in tribute to Parker at Red Top. Designed by artist Ellen Kennelly, whose father had rowed for Harvard, the memorial is ‘a curved stonewall representing the bend of an oar, with a flagpole at its apex, representing the pin of the oarlock. Atop the wall sits a bronze cast of Harry’s infamous megaphone – dents, scratches and all’, Row2K, wrote on its website. See a picture of the memorial here.

Red Top was the natural spot for this tribute. ‘This was the place of Harry’s first big win, and his last win’, his wife, Kathy Keeler, told Row2K.

Spectators at Red Top were happy to find shade when the sun was beaming down.

At precisely 2:45, the 2-mile Freshman race started under a blue sky with some fluffy white clouds and almost flat water. Though it was called ‘freshman’, the crews were not just freshmen. Parker had always insisted that the shortest race of the regatta was going to be for freshmen only, although this year it was decided that the crews could be mixed, a ‘3rd Varsity’. It was Butt’s intention to race with a pure freshman crew, but injuries and some needed changes after the poor performance at the IRA made him shift some of the oarsmen in the boats. In the first race of the day, the Crimson crew got an early lead, but did not manage to shake off the Yale crew. The Bulldogs did not, however, really manage to threaten the Crimson’s lead. Harvard was a boat length ahead over the finish line, at 9:19.6. Yale’s time, 9:22.8 – the closest race of the day.

The 2nd Varsity race also had ‘mixed’ crews, and several of the oarsmen in the Harvard crew were freshmen. While it is not that much difference from racing a 2,000-metre race to a 2-mile (c. 3,220) race, a 3-miler takes some time to get used to if you have been racing 2,000-metre races during the whole season. In this 3-mile race, Crimson led from the start, and when a cross-wind hit the course early in the race – a cross-wind that the 3rd Varsity crews did not feel, as they started further up-river – it made it harder for Yale to catch up. After Harvard left the area with the cross-wind, somewhere after the Submarine Base, the crew picked up speed and was almost 18 seconds ahead of Yale crossing the finish line, winning at 14:15.7. Yale’s time, 14:33.1.

A winning crew: Harvard 2nd Varsity

The start of the Varsity crews’ 4-mile race under the Gold Star Bridge took some time to organise, as Yale’s stake boat suddenly began to drift off. After a 15-20-minute delay, both crews were off. With the incoming tide and a tailwind, the times were expected to be fast, but the wind had picked up for the first mile and the crosswind made sure that the oarsmen had to fight for every inch on that mile. At first Yale took a slight lead, but at the half-mile mark, Crimson was up a five, six seats to Yale; for the rest of the first mile Yale stayed in contact with Harvard. Passing the 1-mile mark, Harvard put in an extra gear that gave them more than a boat length lead at the 2-mile mark. After that it was impossible for the Bulldogs to catch up. At the 3-mile mark, Crimson had a 14 second lead, and from there the crew, with Bow Peter Scholle, 2 James Medway, 3 Andrew Reed, 4 James Johnston, 5 Vincent Breet, 6 Max Meyer-Bosse, 7 Charles Risbey, Stroke Andy Holmes, and Cox Will Hakim, cruised up the course, winning at 19:32.3, while Yale’s time was 19:46.4.

Harvard Varsity now leads the series by 96 victories to Yale’s 54.

Harvard oarsmen taking care of their boat before tossing in their cox, Will Hakim, in the Thames. Hakim, on the right, is just catching the broom that someone is tossing to him.

HTBS managed to exchange a couple of words with Harvard’s Varsity cox, Will Hakim, who the previous two years has coxed the JV boat, and who was now wet from having been tossed in the Thames. Happily leaning on the famous broom that comes out from the boathouse after every clean sweep, three victories (four if you count the Friday Coxed Four race for ‘combi crews’), I asked him if there was ever any doubt that his boat was going to win? Will said: ‘No, not really. We were prepared from any attacks from Yale, and we never felt pressured. Charley [Butt] trained us well, and to us there was never any doubt that we would win.’

When I later talked to Harvard’s Varsity stroke and captain, Andy Holmes, he said that the crew had been struggling in the choppy waters just before the Submarine Base. ‘Then we were really bouncing around a lot’, Holmes said in his beautiful Scottish accent. To the question how much it meant to have oarsmen in the boat who have rowed in the race before, Holmes said: ‘It means a lot. Four, five guys have rowed in the race before, for Harry. It gives confidence’. Holmes, who himself has rowed in three previous Varsity races for Harvard against Yale, praised the rest of the crew: ‘This is a great team. The boys had an unbelievable rhythm, which really made it easy for me. We had some strong guys from South Africa in the “engine room” [4 James Johnston and 5 Vincent Breet] – those guys are phenomenal. This is my last year, and it has been a fantastic four years and I have learned a lot.’ Holmes continues: ‘We wanted to win, we did it for Harry and we did it for Charley. We wanted Charley to get off with one [win].’

Andy Holmes, Harvard Varsity captain and stroke, is talking to the gentlemen of the press (no female reporters this year at the regatta!).

Later this summer, Harvard is going to Henley Royal Regatta, but not with any eights. Instead they are sending some fours. I asked Holmes for which cup they are going, and he said: ‘The Visitors’ Challenge Cup, with me, Peter Scholle, Andy Reed and Max Meyer-Bosse. We are also competing in the Prince Albert Challenge Cup [coxed Four for students] with some freshmen.’

Coach Charley Butt happily waving the broom.

After the traditional winning photograph of the crew with their coach, the latter was tossed in the river. Charley Butt did not seem to mind it at all, and after some seconds in the water, he was joined by the crew, and by his young son, who voluntarily took a dip in the Thames. Standing on the dock, wet, but happy, Butt kindly agreed to answer some questions even from an obscure blog reporter as yours truly. My first question was obvious:

‘You had some big shoes to fill, how does it feel?’ Butt laughed before he answered: ‘Oh, it will take a while yet to get used to, but the guys have rowed for Harry, so it was as much a continuance of him as it was a beginning for me. The real test for me is going forward with each year.’ He continued: ‘The way it went today…. I am delighted. They are really good guys. You can see they row well. All of them have rowed for Harry, except for a freshman [James Johnston] who came in today.’

Then I asked him about all the shuffling around of the crews. ‘Yes there was a lot of that for this weekend. We knew if would be very difficult, and this was going to be important.’

‘Then you are going to Henley with some fours? I asked. ‘Yes’, Butt replied, ‘we will take some fours, and then continue on….’

I thank him and wished him luck at Henley.

A wet Coach Butt with an equally wet son in the background.

Charley Butt seems to be a very humble man, just the fellow who could well start a new era for the Crimson. Of course, the question that many, if not all, Yale supporters are asking right now is: how long will it take for Yale to turn the corner? As it is now, it is honestly not much of a competition in either race.

Harvard Varsity winners.

To the question from the newspaper the New Haven Register ‘How long until the Bulldogs can compete with Harvard again?’ Yale’s Coach Steve Gladstone said:

That’s a good question. Here’s what it takes. If you have enough depth in squad to have serious and meaningful competition, it can go quickly. Right now we don’t have that. We really don’t. You can see the drop-off with the JV. There’s not that depth. Next year’s incoming class should provide that. I’m not shy about it; it’s our intention to have this program be in the top echelon. Not just in the top six, but let’s start medaling and win this race. A year away? Two years away? I don’t know.

Two Crimson ‘old oars’ watching the river, where a winning Harvard crew is approaching the dock at Red Top.

Coming back to the question about having only freshmen in the ‘Freshman race’, I see both pros and cons with that. As it is now, the door is open for a 3rd Varsity, instead of a pure freshman race. This means, as was proved this year with all the crews from both Yale and Harvard, that freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors can be picked for any of the boat crews. What we get with this system is an A-, B- and C-boat, where the eight very best oarsmen form the crew for the A-boat (Varsity), the next best eight oarsmen form the B-boat (2nd Varsity), and the next best rowers are the C-boat (3rd Varsity). I really wish that the oarsmen in the Freshman crew were ‘fresh’, but if we take a look at this year’s list of rowers, it tells us that it will be impossible.

Of the twenty-seven men in the Harvard crews, more than half of them, eighteen men, were foreigners, while Yale had twelve non-Americans rowing in their crews. It is a fact, that non-Americans begin to row earlier in life than Americans; they are then ‘fresh’ both academically and in the boat, while the Brits, other Europeans, New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans already have more competition experience when they come as freshmen to Yale and Harvard. What I heard during the races on Saturday was that many of the oarsmen from the other countries will now return home to try to qualify for the Under-23 World Championships – yes, they are that good.

Of course, a different perspective is that of the international oarsmen rowing for Oxford and Cambridge in the famous Boat Race. Many of the foreigners in the Oxbridge crews are both World Champions and Olympians before they join these universities’ boat clubs; there are no freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors rowing categories in the boat races between Oxford and Cambridge.

It is going to be interesting to see in which direction the Harvard – Yale Regatta will develop in the future with foreigners at the oars, and how the Charley Butt era will look a couple of years from now.

Among the celebrities at Red Top was boat builder Graeme King of Putney, Vermont.

Here are the lists of the crews:

3rd Varsity/Freshman: The New London Cup
Bow Achim Harzheim (Germany)
2 Craig Slater (New Jersey)
3 Alex Uruchurtu (Australia)
4 Philip Bates (Maryland)
5 Adam Janes (England)
6 Andrew Emmett (Australia)
7 Josh Bernstein (England)
Str. Gregory Edwards (England)
Cox Brittanie Maxwell (Minnesota)

Bow William Rosenbloom (Illinois)
2 Jack McGinn (Minnesota)
3 Lawrence Lopez-Menzies (Connecticut)
4 Ed Reeves (New Zealand)
5 Grant Olscamp (Ohio)
6 Emery Schoenly (Connecticut)
7 John Risbergs (New York)
Str. Henry Bird (New York)
Cox Mackenzie Lee (California)

Watch the 3rd Varsity/Freshman race:

2nd Varsity: The F. Valentine Chappell Trophy
Bow Ross Jarvis (Australia)
2 Sean Vedrinelle (France)
3 Matt Carter (England)
4 James Croxford (Australia)
5 Ben Lynton (New Zealand)
6 Henry Kennelly (Massachusetts)
7 Rory Glover (Australia)
Str. Chase Buchholz (Rhode Island)
Cox Joel Batesman (New Zealand)

Bow Lyon van Voorhis (Massachusetts)
2 Elliot O’Rielly (France)
3 Robert Michel (New Jersey)
4 Robin Molen-Grisgull (Australia)
5 Clements Barth (Germany)
6 Thomas Pagel (England)
7 Nate Goodman (New Jersey)
Str. Adam Smith (New Zealand)
Cox Chris Carothers (Illinois)

Watch the 2nd Varsity race:

Varsity The Sexton Cup
Bow Peter Scholle (Massachusetts)
2 James Medway (Australia)
3 Andrew Reed (Massachusetts)
4 James Johnston (South Africa)
5 Vincent Breet (South Africa)
6 Max Meyer-Bosse (Connecticut)
7 Charles Risbey (Australia)
Str. Andrew Holmes (Scotland)
Cox William Hakim (Massachusetts)

Bow Owen Symington (Australia)
2 Zachary Johnson (California)
3 David DeVries (California)
4 Ollie Wynne-Griffith (England)
5 Hubert Trzybinski (Germany)
6 Simon Keenan (Australia)
7 Robert Hurn (Australia)
Str. Peter Tortora (Connecticut)
Cox Oliver Fletcher (England)

Watch the Varsity race:

Race commentators in the videos above are Andy Card and Charlie Hamlin.

Winning Harvard crews getting ready to celebrate - Crimson now leads the series with 96 victories to Yale’s 54.

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