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Wisconsin coxswain Mark Sniderman stood outside a room at the Holiday Inn-Eastgate in Cincinnati last Thursday, waiting to have his picture taken for an ID card for the Men's Collegiate Nationals, known as the Cincinnati Regatta. Sniderman scanned the walls and noticed the regatta's promotional poster, a sculler finishing his stroke. Sniderman didn't like it. The rower had a large crimson H across his chest.
"Can you believe that?" he said.
"Maybe they won't win this year," said Sniderman. "Maybe we will."
Two days later, Wisconsin did just that. The Badger eight won its second national championship (the first came in 1986), making it the only crew other than you-know-who to win more than one national title in the eight years since the championship became official.
Last Saturday afternoon, as the temperature pushed 90�, Wisconsin coach Randy Jablonic paced the shore of Harsha Lake, giving race prophecy to anyone who cared to listen. "If we're near the action at 1,000 meters, we've got a shot," he said.
Traditionally a slow-starting crew, Wisconsin came off the line quickly this time, and at the 1,000 mark, halfway through the race, the Badgers weren't just near the action, they were ahead of it.
"At 600 meters all the crews were together, so I called for a Rude Red 20 [20 all-out power strokes]," said Sniderman. "After that, we caught the lead and kept moving."
The Badgers finished 4.34 seconds ahead of second-place Harvard, which in crewspeak is like being in another zip code. But what was even more remarkable than Harvard's losing was Wisconsin's winning—in fact, Wisconsin's having the gall to be competitive at all. People expect the Badgers to be good in hockey (they are national champs this year), cross-country skiing and the cheddar cheese toss. But crew? How do you row on ice?
"We don't get nearly the amount of water time that the East and West Coast schools get," says freshman coach Dan Gehn. "We're usually off the water for about five months. This year, the ice broke early." Early in Madison is the last week in March.