Sitting on his sliding seat in the moments before the start of the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships, Washington's captain and No. 3 oar, Brad Thomas, felt cool. "The three years I've been here previously," he said later, the sweat of victory on his face, "I've been real nervous. I've sat there at the start and felt really bad. This year, no nerves."
In a little more than six minutes of rowing last Saturday on Onondaga Lake at Syracuse, N.Y., Thomas and his mates in the Husky varsity eight pulled off the biggest upset of the season. Not only did they defeat Wisconsin, Dartmouth, Cornell and Brown, they flogged heavily favored Pennsylvania, which spent its energy in a vain attempt to hold off the Westerners and fell all the way back to fifth. Thus did Washington win the country's most prestigious race for the first time since 1950.
Nobody around the tree-shaded Ten Eyck boathouse except the Huskies themselves had seriously believed the West Coast crew could take Penn. Washington's year had been a season within a season, the second one beginning after a shattering experience at the Western Sprints. The Huskies had entered as favorites—but lost to UCLA. "After the Sprints," said Coxswain Jim Edwards, "we went home and changed several things."
For one thing, they shuffled the boating around. Cliff Hum, a 6'4" IRA veteran, was switched to stroke from his No. 3 seat, while two new men were seated at 4 and 2. Next, Washington upped its rowing rate. "At the Sprints we rowed at about 34," Edwards said. "After that we turned around and ran two strokes higher." Coach Dick Erickson did what coaches seem to love to do: he made an already exacting training regime even tougher. The rigging and Pocock shells remained unchanged.
From Australia the Huskies imported a device called an ergometer with which to simulate the act of rowing on dry land and measure changes—improvements, hopefully—in the efficiency of individual oarsmen. While the school did not reveal its findings, it is safe to assume ergo was on the upswing in the Washington boat.
The crew's times on home waters began to drop. "On successive days," said Edwards, "we broke the home-course record. Our best time of 6:07 [for 2,000 meters] was four seconds better. After that, we knew we could do the IRA."
Actually, the one school given an outside chance to take Penn was Dartmouth, not Washington, and when the luck of the draw matched Penn and Dartmouth in Thursday's preliminaries it seemed likely that this might be the race of the week. Dartmouth Coach Peter Gardner said, "If we beat them it might force [Penn Coach] Ted Nash into changing his boat. It would also force Penn to race in the repechages on Friday while we rest." Came the test, however, and low-stroking Dartmouth failed to respond correctly to Penn's final sprint, losing out by a narrow margin.
But Dartmouth had severely extended the Quakers. One gauge of the pressure was the discomfiture of a seasoned Penn oarsman bearing the grand name Gardner Cadwalader. Tough as an oak stump and noted for never showing signs of strain, Cadwalader threw up upon reaching the boathouse. By pressing Penn's rowers so hard, it developed, Dartmouth had softened them up for the finals, which Dartmouth also reached by beating Princeton in Friday's repechages.
Penn's eight had lost only one regatta all season—to Harvard in the Eastern Sprints. On that day Penn had rowed an admittedly poor race, with two oarsmen actually catching crabs. As a result, Nash, a taskmaster, imposed heavier tasks. "From the Sprints on we started doing two practices a day instead of one," explained a Penn oarsman. "You better believe Nash worked our behinds off." They trained and trained and trained, until some observers, including Dartmouth's freshman coach, John Danford, came to believe that Nash had gone too far. "They finally overtrained," he said. "Also, they rowed much too high."
Indeed, it seems clear that Penn's strong suit—a short, sharp, staccato style with numerous sprints thrown in—may have become a weakness. As Peter Gardner put it, "Penn depends on sprints to get out in front, but if another crew starts to crowd them, they get ruffled. We counted on doing that ourselves."