At exactly 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, June 18, Referee Clifford (Tip) Goes will be standing in a launch on Lake Onondaga at Syracuse, N.Y. He will face 12 sleek, eight-oared racing shells, each moored to a stake boat with its complement of eight tall, muscular undergraduates poised at their oars. Through his megaphone Goes will shout, "Ready all? Row!" At this command, the shells will be away on a three-mile grind in quest of the Varsity Challenge Cup, that ugly, pitcherlike trophy (upper right) emblematic of the national collegiate rowing championship. This year's Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta, the 53rd, has drawn entries from coast to coast—Boston University, California, Columbia, Cornell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Navy, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, Syracuse, Washington and Wisconsin. Rowing-wise observers favor undefeated Pennsylvania, the eastern sprint champions, and a powerful Cornell boat that has yet to live up to its preseason billing as the nation's best. Navy's graduation-decimated champions of a year ago and Washington's inexperienced Huskies are the dark horses. And Stanford's "orphans of the West," whose rowers pay their own way on a minuscule crew budget of $5,000 a year (SI, June 13), are the sentimental favorites.
Since early June, when Columbia arrived for prerace workouts, Lake Onondaga has echoed to the shrill cry of the coxswains, urging more power and pull from their crews in repeated sprints and distance time trials. By race day most crews will have had several days of rowing on Onondaga. The two favorites—Penn and Cornell—have been working out on Lake Cayuga in Ithaca, N.Y., where last weekend they raced each other over a placid 2‚Öì-mile course, Penn winning by a length. Both then moved to Onondaga for last-minute tune-ups, bringing the total of oarsmen gathered there for the regatta to more than 300. All of them are being housed and fed in a huge dormitory at the New York State Fairgrounds.
In 1950, the stewards, perturbed by bad rowing conditions on the wave-tossed Hudson, moved the regatta to the Ohio River at Marietta. But the Ohio turned out to be even more unfriendly than the Hudson. The night before the 1950 race a five-inch downpour started flash floods on the Muskingum River, which empties into the Ohio a furlong below the starting line. By race time, the Muskingum was spraying 60-foot logs and masses of debris onto the course. The race was shortened to two miles, Navy broke an oar on a stray buoy, currents dragged the finish line near Rers out of position and the observation train broke down. The next year was no better. Flood conditions again held the race to two miles. Two Navy shells sank, Princeton broke a rudder and Penn sprang a leak on the rampaging Ohio. In 1952 the race was moved again—to Onondaga.
Early this season, Cornell looked like a sure thing to re-enter the winning column for the first time since 1930. The Ithacans are big (averaging 6 feet 3½ inches, 187 pounds) as a crew should be, with long arms for superior stroking and plenty of weight for more pulling power. But they have been hampered by bad spring rowing weather and haven't had the long rows needed to jell into an integrated unit. Penn's crew is not nearly so hefty (6 feet 1¾ inches, 175 pounds), but it is a model of precision rowing. The varsity has been intact seven months and, with no rough-water problems on Philadelphia's sluggish Schuylkill River, has not missed a day's practice. Deadly at sprints, Penn's problem will be to adjust to the longer grind. Judging by the winning performance over Cornell last week, it seems they are making the adjustment.
Meanwhile, at New London, Conn. the same routine is being followed by Yale and Harvard, the two major abstainers from the IRA, who have been winding up preparations for their own personal crew race, the oldest intercollegiate sports event in the U.S. Yale, with six men returning from last year's boat that whipped Harvard, is favored to win the four-mile grind, longest crew race in America. Harvard will boat five sophomores in hopes of scoring its 48th victory (Yale has won 42) in a series that began 103 years ago.
Yale and Harvard had the intercollegiate crew field practically to themselves in the early days, but in 1895 Columbia, Cornell and Pennsylvania rowed a four-mile race on the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie in the first IRA classic. With one exception (in 1898, when the race was rowed on Saratoga Lake, N.Y.) the event remained at Poughkeepsie until 1950. Today, it is still popularly known as the Poughkeepsie Regatta to most rowing buffs.