One of the most
hopeful words in sport, albeit one that tends to stick like a frog in the
throats of nonrowing Americans, is the noun repechage. It derives from the
French rep�cher, which literally means re-fish but is more commonly used to
denote rescue. In rowing it is the name of a heat which provides a second
chance for boats that struck out the first time up.
Needless to say.
crews gaining the finals of a regatta by the repechage route are usually
longshots. But rarely has there been a shot longer than Cornell's heavyweight
eight when it went re-refishing in last Saturday's IRA at Syracuse, N.Y.—the
collegiate championship—and possibly never such heartfelt jubilation at an IRA
as when those red-shirted young men collapsed over their oars at the finish.
Cornell's victory was the first by a repechage eight in the 76-year history of
So weak was
Cornell in the general estimation that only the Big Red's new coach, Todd
Jesdale, gave the boat any chance. In one configuration or another—Jesdale had
been shaking the boat up all season—it had been beaten by nearly everybody on
the East Coast. It was rather a gallant gesture for the Big Red to show up at
all, worth a tip of the cap if only in tribute to Cornell's once-dominant role
in the IRA. The Big Red had won more championships than any other school, but
all that was ancient history.
preferred Washington, the defending champion and winner of the Western Sprints,
an eight notable both for its ungainly starts and powerhouse finishes. They
also liked Navy, the top Eastern crew of the year and loser of only one
collegiate race—and that to Princeton in the season opener. And they found
something to say for Penn, which had gained cohesion after a fitful season and
had provided four men for the eight that won the American Henley Regatta on
Except for Navy
these rivals were in first-rate condition. Navy was tired. In what seems to
have been a blunder, so far as his chances in the IRA were concerned, Coach
Carl Ullrich had taken his crew to Europe for a taste of Continental rowing in
the days just before. A plane foul-up brought Navy into Syracuse only a few
hours prior to Thursday's first heat. The crew had gone 23 hours without
Came those first
preliminaries, which put winners directly into the finals, and Navy died,
finishing third behind Penn and Brown. Washington won its heat, but poor
Cornell did even worse than Navy, straggling in last in that same race.
Repechaging manfully the next day, Cornell defeated Dartmouth, Northeastern,
Wisconsin and California. A worthy effort, yes, but surely nothing to perturb a
Washington or a Penn; these were nonpowers all. Navy woke up and won its
repechage, too; the Middies clearly had untapped resources of grit and
steamy hot but with a gentle quartering wind to give the 12,000 spectators at
Onondaga Lake some relief, and as the eights boiled away Washington wobbled off
in a typically poor start. Penn and Cornell got away strongly. Only a matter of
moments until the Big Red burns out, thought the experts. But, ah, at the
500-meter mark on the 2,000-meter course Cornell had a nice little lead, with
Penn second and Rutgers (!) third. Just before the halfway point, where some
slaphappy swimmers had paddled out to watch the boats sweep past, Cornell still
had the lead, now by a full length, but Washington was beginning to make its
move. The trouble was, Washington was making its move from a long way back in
Now all six crews
began to sprint. Washington gave all the kick it had and caught boat after
boat, but Cornell rowed with power and poise. The astounded spectators thus saw
the Big Red defeat the Huskies by a solid quarter-boat length. At first even
Cornell's stroke, David Wetherill, looked about in disbelief. It was the
biggest rowing upset in many, many years.
Old oars will
shuffle along countless banks in years to come, rehashing the elements of
victory. Todd Jesdale! As recently as a month ago he had plucked his varsity
stroke from his third boat. David Wetherill! A farm boy from Downingtown, Pa.
and at 175 pounds one of the lightest strokes in any big regatta.
Cornell had acquired a neat balance between Husky power and Penn smoothness.
Jesdale is a former lightweight Cornell oarsman who never made it beyond the
junior varsity boat, and though Cornell last won the IRA in 1963 he has
inherited a considerable rowing tradition. In its finest days—and some not so
successful—the Big Red was coached by Harrison (Stork) Sanford, a man known for
his wisdom, benevolence, teaching skill and the size of his shoes. The prospect
of filling them when Sanford retired last year did not rattle Jesdale—either
then or last week.