Holding the Line (Racing) – Harvard Independent

Never has the importance of the crew at Harvard been so evident as at Head of the Charles Regatta, the world’s largest rowing event. 2,231 boats competed last weekend in 619 rowing clubs, attracting. 200,000 spectators and the business of hundreds of vendors. Yet some of the breed’s most important members are perhaps the least recognized as well. Small in stature to minimize extra weight and without an oar, the coxswain is often overlooked compared to his much larger teammates. However, their role, especially during the Charles race, is anything but tiny.

“Head of the Charles is one of the most important races for coxswains, if not the most important, because it is a real test of skill to lead and the ability to maneuver around others in an unpredictable situation,” said said Hailey Kwoun ’24, coxswain of the Harvard men’s team. heavyweight rowing team.

Sprint regattas are typically 2,000 meter events where competing boats race side by side in a straight line, while lead regattas are time trials run over 5,000 meters of meandering river. The boats start ten seconds apart, the winner being judged by his time of course rather than his finish position. This makes choosing the right racing line all the more crucial. “The longer the race, the more opportunities there are to add meters,” said Radcliffe heavyweight coxswain Holly Conlon ’23. “Especially when Head of the Charles is not a straight course.”

Justin Han ’24 had never been in a regatta on Saturday, but he cherished the opportunity to make his debut on such a difficult course. “It was great to have one of the biggest races in the world as my first one,” he said.

Han appreciated the home ground advantage Harvard students enjoy over the Charles. “The advantage we have of training every day on this river was clearly evident,” he said. “For example, over the weeks [Bridge] round, we are told to aim for the Lowell Bell tower. This means that during the race you don’t have to think too much about the angle you are going to take because you just know how to aim for the tower.

Han’s strategy for Weeks Bridge is more than just convenience. The turn is 90 degrees and is in the middle of the race. This is perhaps the most notorious part of the course and is enough to stir up fear even in the most experienced sailor. “The Weeks’ round is probably the bane of most coxswain lives,” Kwoun said. “Most coxswains are going to screw it up. And even if they have perfectly clear traffic, they probably still won’t get the line they want. ”

Not to be outdone, the 180 degree turn that followed under Eliot Bridge delivers a brutal punch to the coxswain. Their technique must be absolutely perfect to have any chance of winning their event. “If you get stuck on the outside of a corner unnecessarily, you can add tons of time to your run,” Conlon said.

Han learned too well the difficulty of maneuvering those corners during a race. After successfully sailing on the Weeks Bridge, he unfortunately crashed his boat on the side of the Eliot Bridge. Although incredibly disappointed that it cost his team precious time, Han couldn’t afford to think of anything else other than his next move during the race.

“There is a lot of panic when [a crash] come; everyone is just trying to do what they can, ”he said. “As a coxswain, it’s my job to get them back in line and get them back to rowing on time and with discipline to finish the race. Han’s boat was able to recover from its accident and placed 37th, beating eight other boats in the process.

Kwoun’s experience on Saturday was not that of crisis management but that of celebration. She guided her boat to first place in the Men’s Club Four race, Harvard’s first victory in that event since 1973, how the rest of the field did. A few days after the event, she reflected on her performance with enthusiasm. “I’ve run Head of the Charles three times before and have never finished near the top so it was extremely exciting for me,” she said.

Conlon was not happy with her boat’s 14th place finish in the Women’s Eight Championship, but her eyes are already on the future. “It was disappointing, but there is a lot to look forward to,” she said. “Our training is mainly focused on preparing for the spring and our spring racing season. “

The following week, Head of the Charles is strangely calm. The fans left and the stands were dismantled, not to return for a whole year. The river that has welcomed so much joy and also heartache is empty except for the practice sessions of local schools and rowing clubs. For those who have experienced this weekend firsthand, however, the scale of the event will resonate much longer. Harvard coxswains will continue to try to guide their teams to glory in the same way they always have, by being low-key, but essential.

Declan Buckley ’24 (declanbuckley@college.harvard.edu) secretly wishes to have rowed with a crew.

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