The Long Arc of Excellence

The returning national champion oarsmen (L-R: Paul Jacquot (Captain), Charlie Elwes, Sholto Carnegie, Thomas Digby, Jonathan Winter) are shown holding the 1873 prize and the IRA trophy won in 2017. (Despite extensive inquiries, none of the 1873 oarsmen were available to be in this picture.)

19 May 2018

Thomas E. Weil writes:

Yale rowing, established in 1843, is the oldest collegiate crew program in the United States. It was almost ten years later, in 1852, that Yale and Harvard raced against one another in the first intercollegiate athletic contest in the country.

It took close to another twenty years for three or more collegiate varsity crews to contest what was arguably the first national championship, a three-mile race for six-oars on the Connecticut River at Springfield, MA, in 1871, in which the Mass “Aggies” from Amherst defeated Harvard and Brown, but that was the spark that lit the flame. The following year, six six-oared crews raced for the honor, which was captured by Amherst over Harvard, Mass. Ag., Bowdoin, Williams and Yale.

The Yale varsity won its first championship in 1873, when a six-man crew, trained in the “Bob Cook stroke” by their teammate who had just returned from observing English rowing, raced over the downstream Connecticut River course to claim victory despite a contested result on an irregular finish line. Rowing on the still new sliding seat, Yale defeated, in 16:59, Wesleyan, Harvard, Dartmouth (coached by John Biglin), Amherst (coached by Ellis Ward), Columbia (coached by Hank Ward), Bowdoin, the Amherst “Aggies” (coached by Joshua Ward), Cornell, Trinity and Williams. Each of the victorious oarsmen was presented with a Gorham sterling silver goblet.

The 1873 prize shown was won by Yale’s bow man, and, quite remarkably, the location of three of the six goblets is known today.

Yale has won other national championships since that time, but the most recent was their victory in the 2017 Intercollegiate Rowing Association regatta. Five of those oarsmen return in the 2018 boat, which cruised to victory at the Eastern Sprints this past Sunday (registering Yale’s fourth consecutive victory under Coach Steve Gladstone, a string matched and exceeded since the inaugural regatta in 1946 only by Harvard). They enter this year’s IRA contest as the defending title holders, with a sole loss to Cal in the San Diego Crew Classic to mar their 2018 spring campaign.

Yale V8 winning the 2018 Sprints by open water

It has been 144 years from the time that Yale won their first national championship to the time that they won their latest one. Those who cherish rowing history may celebrate the ability to brandish trophies that memorialize both ends of that span of achievement… and no other school can boast of a longer arc of rowing excellence on the national stage.

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