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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Yale and Harvard: A classic matchup of national rowing powers

    The Yale first varsity eight take a practice row on the Thames River earlier this week in preparation for the Harvard-Yale Regatta. National champion Yale meets Harvard on Saturday in the 152nd rowing of the oldest intercollegiate athletic competition in the U.S. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    This sort of blockbuster match-up between two elite college programs would be trumpeted across the nation if it occurred in any major sport.

    No. 1 vs. No. 3 in the country.

    Two storied rivals competing in a historic sporting event.

    Only a few seconds separated the two combatants during two major meetings earlier this spring.

    Cue the announcer at the start: "Let's get ready to ... roooooowww!"

    For the 152nd time, the Harvard-Yale Regatta will take place on Saturday. The upstream four-mile course starts at the Gold Star Bridge and finishes near the painted rock in Bartlett's Cove. Racing begins at 9:15 a.m. and ends with the first varsity eight at 11 a.m.

    Yale enters the race coming off its first-ever IRA national championship. Harvard finished three seconds behind in third place.

    "How many times has No. 1 and No. 3 showed up to race the four miles?" Harvard coach Charley Butt said. "I don't know if it's ever happened. Both teams are strong. Yale has bested us at the (Eastern) Sprints and the IRA (national championship).

    "... If you're a Harvard-Yale rowing fan, you couldn't be more pleased with the rivalry right now because it's up there with the best rowing in the country. The rivalry is quite healthy and quite strong."

    Yale coach Steve Gladstone added: "It's the way it should be."

    The rivalry is as healthy as it's been due to the fact that it's become more competitive. Gone are the days when Harvard had the race won before the first oar hit the water. From 1997 to 2014, the Crimson dominated, winning 27 out of 30 years.

    But the tide has turned in Yale's favor.

    The Bulldogs rolled to victory in 2015 and held a huge advantage through the first half-mile last year before rough water swamped the Crimson's boat, causing it to sink. Yale finished but race officials made a controversial ruling, declaring "no official result" for the race.

    Overall, Harvard leads the series 95-55 in the nation's oldest intercollegiate sporting event.

    Yale will be attempting to win its second straight Harvard-Yale Regatta for the first time since taking four in a row from 1981-84.

    The undefeated Bulldogs are enjoying a historic season for their program.

    "Winning Saturday would be frosting on the cake,"  Gladstone said.

    Gladstone has built a powerhouse program at Yale. He credits the team's veteran leadership for its success in recent years. The eight seniors truly love rowing and competing.

    "This class that's graduating were the people that really started the ball rolling," Gladstone said. "They were the ones that took the risk to come to Yale — a risk from a rowing standpoint — when there were obviously options that looked brighter. But they wanted to be here. They've accomplished a whole lot."

    Don't think for a nanosecond that Yale is overconfident because the Bulldogs never lost to Harvard this season.

    The distance is three times longer than usual 2,000-meter race and variable race conditions on the Thames River will be quite challenging for both sides.

    "It's a whole different event, Gladstone said. "When they start on Saturday, with crews that are this close over 2,000 meters, who's to pick? I know who I want to have win. And I'm very clear and very confident in our crew's ability to execute at a high level. But I'm also understandably — and not gratuitously — very impressed by the work Charley has done with the Harvard crew."

    Harvard is counting on a different outcome.

    Liam Corrigan, an Old Lyme High School graduate and sophomore member of Harvard's varsity eight, believes his team is better suited for the four-mile distance.

    "The whole boat is excited," Corrigan said. "Yale, obviously, is very fast this year, as they have been the last couple of years. But I think we're a lot faster this year than we have been the last couple of years. ... Realistically, it should be very close.

    "If we execute how we want to execute, then we should be able to win."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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