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Penn's blades take a fourth
Hugh D. Whall
June 23, 1969
While Harvard was having its annual tea party with Yale, the Quakers outrowed the rest of the U.S. to win their fourth straight IRA title
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June 23, 1969

Penn's Blades Take A Fourth

While Harvard was having its annual tea party with Yale, the Quakers outrowed the rest of the U.S. to win their fourth straight IRA title

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It's official, Harvard Penn's crew is better than yours, and if you don't like it you can go out and arrange a match race. While you had your private little tea party with Yale last Saturday, Penn was laying its reputation on the line against the best crews from all over the country. It was hot out there on Onondaga Lake, and humid as a shower stall, and Joe Burk's Penn boys had a little fire in their lungs as they whipped Dartmouth and Wisconsin and the rest to take their fourth straight overall Intercollegiate Rowing Association championship—and third straight in the glamourous eights. But congratulations anyway, Harvard, on your mighty eight-length victory over Yale. You'd have to kiss your sister to top that.

With the IRA robbed of a rubber match between Penn and Harvard in the eights to decide the national championship boat to boat, one must give that title to Penn. The crew that wins the IRA is the best; it should be as simple as that. Given Harvard's absence and Penn's reputation, crew nuts out for the big regatta in upstate New York naturally tried to read upset potential into the records of other crews, and the more romantic among them found much to be said for Washington's Huskies. The IRA is, after all, the one regatta that pits East against West, and though the West has been on top in more than 25% of its 67 years, the IRA is regarded as an Eastern institution. Understandably so, since it has been held outside New York State only twice, and that was in 1950 and 1951 when it slipped as far into the hinterland as Marietta, Ohio.

This Eastern bias adds glamour to any Western achievement, but leaves the Westerners in a continual state of frustration, for the East easily forgets how much it owes to Western rowing. The University of Washington has provided much of the East's coaching talent, beginning with the dean himself, Stork Sanford of Cornell, Tom Bolles, who made Harvard a rowing power some years ago, came out of Washington, as did Rusty Callow, mentor of Joe Burk at Penn, and Princeton's outstanding former coach, Dutch Schoch.

Despite this transplant of coaching power, rowing styles East and West have subtly diverged, the East favoring a quicker, sharper action in the recovery, the West a smoother, slightly slower style. On Onondaga the West also displayed quite a lot less hair than the East, although for the first time in memory the Washington freshmen were not crew cut—a concession to the times and a break with tradition that deeply shocked many Washington alumni who had done their hitch at the sweeps with shaved heads.

"There's a whole new feeling in the air," said Washington's coach, the rangy Dick Erickson. "Last year the sense was that no one could beat Penn at the IRA, but now it's different. Of course, it will take a superlative effort."

Said Lightweight Coach Doug Neil: "Everyone's sick of Pennsylvania; they're getting on everyone's nerves. If we can't win here we'd like to see one of the other Western schools do it."

Under the IRA system, preliminary heats are rowed on the two days preceding the final. A crew winning its first heat automatically proceeds to Saturday's finals, but should it lose it still stays in the running by racing in the repechages held on the intervening day. By winning its repechage, an eight then may join the Thursday winners in the championship races.

On Thursday, Cornell had the air of a school that was going to take all day Friday off. First its freshmen won, then the junior varsity. It was not a good day for rowing, and as the varsity crews awaited the gun a stiff breeze whipped across the lake, striking the shells on the beam Pulling an oar was approximately as easy as rolling a log uphill. Crabs had been caught all day, stout oars snapped and men thrown overboard into the murky liquid they call water at Onondaga,

Rowing bow to bow with the Penn varsity through the first 400 meters, Cornell seemed to be holding the Red and Blue easily when Dick Kruger, Cornell's No. 3, felt his oarlock crack. Its rhythm shattered, the Big Red's shell came to a halt. After a 15-second pause that seemed like 15 years, the boat got under way again only to have Kruger's lock break completely at 1,000 meters. Still, Cornell managed to avoid finishing last in its four-boat heat, coming in third behind Wisconsin, which had encountered its own problems when Mike Lohuis was catapulted into the water only 200 meters from the finish after his oarlock failed.

As things turned out, Wisconsin and Cornell were able to take advantage of repechages the next day to win their way into the finals with Navy, Dartmouth, Washington and, of course. Penn.

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