The secret weapon flying through the air like a misguided missile above may be the one that will sink a Russian navy. He is Coxswain John Beeman of the Cornell University crew that promised to take on the Russians in Philadelphia (SI, June 18), provided it won the intercollegiate title. This flight of Coxswain Beeman, propelled into the waters of New York state's Onondaga Lake by his crewmates, proves that Cornell did indeed win.
The victory was no surprise. Crew coaches, like shrewd poker players, are at their best when they are belittling their own assets, but Cornell's Coach Stork Sanford was utterly unable to conceal his self-satisfaction as 13 of the nation's top crews took to the water for the 60th rowing of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships on Onondaga Lake last week. "Our last two weeks of workouts have been excellent," he said. "We are rowing better now than at any time this season."
He said this in the face of one of the strongest fields the IRA has boasted in years. One measure of that strength was the fact that defending champion California, aiming for its third straight victory, was given only an outside chance to achieve it.
From the West Coast, Coach Fil Leanderson's undefeated Huskies of the University of Washington had come to Syracuse primed with more confidence of their own than they had known in a decade. The only crew that had come close to finishing in front of the Huskies all season long was their own junior varsity. After 11 winless years at the IRA and nearly 1,400 miles of practice rowing, the Huskies were lean and ready for victory. The only thing that could upset them, they reasoned, would be the eastern climate. The Huskies had done all their practicing in the crisp, bracing temperatures of the Pacific Northwest, and everyone agreed they needed that kind of weather to win. But at race time on Onondaga Lake, the atmosphere was hot and humid, and the thermometer stood at 85°.
Another patent and potent threat to Cornell came from Joe Burk's surprising Pennsylvanians, who had already beaten the Big Red twice in shorter races and had won all but one of their other races. Burk thought his boys, who row a beat at least seven strokes per minute higher than any other crew, were good enough to win again, but most of the other coaches doubted the high-stroking Pennsylvanians could keep up their rapid pace for three full miles. As it turned out, they couldn't.
As for Cornell, though the Ithacans were barely able to qualify for the Eastern Sprints at Worcester—and then finished well behind in the finals—they weren't worried. All along they had been setting their sights on the longer and more important IRA race. After the Sprints, Sanford rearranged his boat. He got a new cox and shifted Bill Stowe, who had paced Cornell to its first two wins of the season, back from No. 4 to his old stroke position.
Getting off the line quickly with traditionally fast-starting Penn, Washington seesawed with the Quakers for an early lead. Cornell, as was expected, settled into a formful, low-stroking 30 and stayed bunched with—surprisingly—Dartmouth, Brown and Columbia.
At the end of the first mile Penn, stroking at 37, spurted off to a brief lead. Washington, rowing higher than expected with a 33, stayed close. Then Cornell, its power strokes beginning to take effect against the 18-mph headwind, made its move. Driving forward with a long, clean, rhythmic run, it closed slowly on the two leaders.
Penn upped its beat to 39. It was at a similar point in the Eastern Sprints that Burk's boys had begun moving over the water like a scared centipede crossing a hot stove. "But when the time came for us to make our move in this race," said Burk at Syracuse, "we didn't." First Washington, then Cornell, caught and passed Penn. The Quakers, who never did build up the sizable lead they knew they had to have going into the stretch, now were having trouble even holding off upstarts like Dartmouth, Brown and Columbia.
Meanwhile, though outstroked by Washington, Cornell took the lead. Just as the Huskies were making their move, the Big Red, as Stroke Bill Stowe put it later, "gave 'em our big 10"—10 long, hard strokes with all the power the eight rowers could muster. Used at exactly the right moment, such a push can settle a race once and for all, and that is exactly what happened. At the end of Cornell's 10 powerful strokes, Coach Sanford's boys were a length and a half in front. There was still half the race to be rowed, but it was obvious that no one would catch the Big Red ever again.
The only suspense left in the race lay in the battle for the runner-up spot. In the sprinting final quarter, California, trailing for most of the race, suddenly appeared on the scene as unexpectedly as the guilty butler in a whodunit. The Golden Bears crossed the finish line just behind Washington.
As the triumphant Cornell shell paddled up to its wharf, a hanger-on shouted at it, "Well, are you ready to take on the Russians at Philly?"
"Right," answered one of the Big Red's rowers, "and we'll clean 'em up, too."