Ledyard - The schedule traditionally places this race at the season's close, one final heavyweight fight on the Thames River for two Ivy League varsity eights, four miles to glory after a regular season where the normal distance is about half that.
Only this time, the Yale-Harvard Regatta is juxtaposed a little bit differently.
The teams are coming off the Eastern Sprints, May 16 at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass., and are still headed to the IRA National Championships, June 3-5 on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J.
In between, though, there's a matter of this meeting between the teams who first raced on Aug. 3, 1852, the first intercollegiate athletic competition of any kind in the United States. The 145th edition of the Yale-Harvard Regatta will take place Saturday, beginning at 10:45 a.m. and heading upstream, from the Gold Star Bridge to Bartlett's Cove.
The day begins with the two-mile freshman race at 9 a.m. and the three-mile junior varsity race at 9:45 a.m. The two-mile combination race is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday.
"What I like most is that we come here right from exams. It's a great shift," 48th-year Harvard coach Harry Parker said Tuesday from Red Top, his team's headquarters along the Thames River, speaking of the schedule change. "Getting down here and being able to focus on this race. It doesn't get old. It's still pretty good. It's always energizing for me to get here."
What doesn't Parker like about the change?
"I think it's probably going to make it tougher for us next week down in Camden," Parker said. "It takes time for us to recover and readjust to the proper pacing. I think that's going to be challenging."
It is the first time since 1994 that the Yale-Harvard race has been placed before the national championship. The change was precipitated by Harvard's academic schedule, which finished earlier than usual.
Yale coach John Pescatore said the move will save each program about $20,000 in expenses, what it costs to house the entire varsity, junior varsity, freshman and combination rosters for an extra week. Pescatore said it keeps the preparation at a more intense level, knowing what's still to come.
"We end up staying more focused," Yale senior captain Lucas Spielfogel said. "Now it's eat, sleep, row every day and we're fine with that. It's a little bit of a curveball. … It's obviously painful (switching from 2,000 meters to four miles), but it's a different kind of pain. At the end of the day, it's all the same."
Pescatore said the a 2,000-meter race has a pace of approximately 36-38 strokes per minute, while the four-mile race is 34-35 strokes per minute.
He believes, however, that this training could help when the Bulldogs return to the 2,000-meter distance for the national championship.
"I hope so," Pescatore said. "We hope when somebody says, 'Go for a 2K,' when someone says, 'You're halfway there,' our guys will say, 'Halfway? This is easy.'"
Harvard won last year's varsity race in 21 minutes, 25.6 seconds, eclipsing Yale by 19.5 seconds. The Crimson, in fact, have swept all four races at the last two regattas, with Yale's last varsity victory coming by a half-second in 2007.
The Crimson would also seem to have the momentum, coming off a win at the Eastern Sprints in which Parker said his athletes were "right at the maximum they could produce."
Harvard, seeded second, won the sprints, beating Princeton in the grand final and avenging its only dual meet loss of the season by beating Brown, as well. Harvard was seeded second behind Brown and Yale third, however Yale missed the grand final and wound up 11th overall.
Harvard is 6-1 in dual meets, Yale 5-1, both with losses to Brown.
There may be another race to go after this, but one thing's for certain: no one's looking ahead.
"This was definitely a huge pro," said Harvard sophomore Michael DiSanto, a Boston native, of his decision to row for the Crimson. "It's the most historic race in the country. I was telling my friends, if I only got one race to race in this year, it would be the four-miler."