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John Zevenbergen, the brawniest member of the country's biggest crew, calls it "my primordial scream," and it bellowed over San Diego's Mission Bay last Saturday as Zevenbergen and his fellow University of Washington oarsmen beat back Yale, California and Harvard in the San Diego Crew Classic, the first big regatta of the year. The great apes in the city's famed zoo might well have recoiled. When the 6'4", 215-pound six-oar came ashore and grabbed his coxswain, Eric Cohen, shaking him like a rag mop, and shouting, "Yeah, yeah, yeah...," there were those who feared for Cohen's life. The day was complete for Washington when Matt Arrott, the Harvard stroke-oar (6 feet, 192) relinquished his racing jersey to Huskie Stroke Marius Felix (6'7�", 225), and said, "People don't get many of these."
How true. Harvard, a magical name in rowing, loses few races and hadn't finished as far back as fourth since this same event three years ago. And it had been balmy in New England: ice on the Charles broke three weeks early, allowing Harvard and neighboring Northeastern to head west unusually well prepared. With an ice-free winter for the first time in three years, the Huskies had been rowing on Seattle's Lake Washington since Sept. 29. In fact, the only place where the weather seemed to be acting up was San Diego. Sheets of rain swept the bay as race day approached, and a bitter crosswind gusted over the course, kicking up quite a sea. Harry Parker, Harvard's coaching wizard, concerned about the conditions, called from his launch to one of his oarsmen, "You're pivoting that wrist too far," and to another, "You're turning that handle too much."
"You run the risk of having the blade slip back into the water," he explained, "and of catching a crab; on a day like this you could end up swimming."
Yale Coach Tony Johnson, who had never brought his oarsmen to San Diego before, told them, "You might find, with the strong wind here, that you end up going crab style down the course. It's a touchy thing."
Washington arrived late and took only one brief workout on the bay. Coach Dick Erickson, known in Seattle as The Admiral of the Western Fleet, seemed even more highly strung than usual. "I've never seen him so psyched over a crew, or so confident," Zevenbergen said.
The Huskies average 6'5�" and 206 pounds per man. In fact, two members of the crew are as tall as Washington's tallest starting basketball players: Felix and Greg Hoffman, the 6'8" four-man. Five-man Sam Eastabrooks, a mere 6'7", keeps in the mood for rowing in the summer by paddling about 20 miles nonstop, in six-man outrigger canoes, near his parents' Oahu home.
Erickson was so hyped that he even had stopped smoking his pipe—there were rumors that he used to sleep with it—and began running, up to six miles at a shot. Two days before leaving for San Diego, the Admiral conducted one of his late-afternoon instructionals on Lake Washington. Through his megaphone, he told Eastabrooks, "Sam, keep your eyes up. Look at Zevenbergen's back in front of you. That will help you keep from dropping the oar handle as you roll up from the catch."
Erickson said to an onlooker, "Sam may be the cleverest man in the boat for blade work, but he tends to look down as his blade catches the water, which makes it pop up instead of going in."
To Hoffman, who sometimes fails to row with his arms early enough in the stroke, he called, "Greg, you've got to sit up, and bend your right arm earlier in the drive."