HEAVYWEIGHT CREW | Bulldogs race to retain Olympic Axe

Men’s heavyweight crew seeks to maintain its nine-year winning streak against Dartmouth at the Olympic Axe sprint this weekend.
Men’s heavyweight crew seeks to maintain its nine-year winning streak against Dartmouth at the Olympic Axe sprint this weekend. Photo by Dionis Jahjaga.

Every spring since 2004, the heavyweight crew team has raced against Dartmouth in competition for the Olympic Axe — and on Saturday morning, the Bulldogs hope to extend their nine-year undefeated streak in the annual contest as they host the Big Green at the Gilder Boathouse in Derby, Conn.

Two weeks ago, in their season-opening regatta against the defending Eastern Sprints champion, Brown, the Bulldogs lost by small margins in the varsity eight, junior varsity eight and third varsity eight categories, but managed to win the varsity four race.

“I think at this point in the season the team is in a very good place,” oarsman Zach Johnson ’14 said. “We are showing a lot of speed and have a lot of potential moving forward. While the result of the Brown race was less than ideal, the fact that the margin was so small bodes well for the coming season.”

Coxswain Oliver Fletcher ’14 added that team morale is high going into this weekend’s race and that the team has had two strong weeks of practice since dropping the race to Brown.

The battle-axe trophy became the prize for the varsity eight Yale-Dartmouth race in 2004, and Dartmouth has yet to win it. Last year, Yale swept the regatta at home and the Bulldogs’ varsity eight bested the Big Green with a time of 5:30.7 compared to 5:36.9 in the 2,000-meter course.

Dartmouth is often at a disadvantage in the early part of the season, Fletcher and oarsman Clemens Barth ’15 said, because the team’s home course on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire stays frozen longer than the rivers on which other schools race. Last weekend, Dartmouth’s varsity eight placed second in a race against Columbia, Holy Cross and MIT.

This weekend will be the first of two home races for the Bulldogs this season, with the second one taking place on April 27 against Cornell and Princeton.

Johnson said racing on the home course is more personal and can be beneficial because the coxswains know the nuances of the course.

Barth added, however, that at the college varsity level, “teams know how to race a 2000m piece and they will approach it the same way at home on a familiar course or away on a unknown course.”

Saturday’s race is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Gilder Boathouse. The first race of the day will be the third varsity eight, followed by the junior varsity eight, varsity eight and fourth varsity eight every 15 minutes.

Buses for spectators will leave from the Payne Whitney Gymnasium earlier that morning.

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