Sports | 10:24 am | June 5, 2011 | By James Lu

BOOLA BOOLA | Lightweight crew edges Harvard, takes national title

As crews from Harvard and Yale pulled over the finish line at the IRA Regatta, neither squad knew which would be the victor. Five minutes later, a faint voice came over the loudspeaker and the Elis erupted in cheers — Yale had clinched the lightweight crew national championship by just 0.02 seconds.

“We all just went crazy,” said captain Andrew Hakanson ’11, describing the team’s reaction to the announcement. “From my perspective, this year was amazing, but it’s actually been a four year effort…and it’s great finally to win the national championships.”

The first varsity eight’s victory capped off a successful day for the Bulldogs, which also saw them take home fourth place in the inaugural grand final of the lightweight four event. The first varsity boat also won the opportunity to represent the lightweight crew class in the Temple Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, which takes place from June 29 to July 3 on the River Thames in Henley-on-Thames, England.

While the varsity boat had a third-place finish at the May 15 Eastern Sprints, Will Zeng ’11, who sat in the four seat at the IRA Regatta, said the crew was not content to sit on that result.

“The last thing that [head coach Andy] Card told us before we launched was: ‘finish it’,”, he said. “In the last race of our last season, we wanted to finish the whole thing.”

And finish it they did. After the first thousand meters, the Yale boat trailed Harvard and Dartmouth. Then, with 500 meters to go in the 2000-meter race, the Elis pulled ahead with the Crimson while Dartmouth faded back.

The final 100 meters saw the Bulldogs fight to hold onto a one-seat lead, a margin that Harvard nearly closed in a neck-and-neck finish.

Before the result was officially known, Card said he talked with his assistant coach on the other side of the river and both agreed it had been a “good race”

“I would have felt great about the effort no matter how the inches had fallen,” he said. Card, who could not hear the announcements because of his position on the river, added that he heard the announcer declare Yale the victor through a phone call with a former coach. He recalled that the moment was “really quite surreal.”

It was a fitting finish to the regular racing season for seniors who graduated last month, said Emma McBurney ’12, who coxed the winning boat. She coxed heavyweight crew for the past two years, before switching to lightweight crew this season.

“It’s been a tough season,” she said. “We lost to Princeton and Harvard at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton regatta, lost a close race at [Eastern] Sprints and still came back and had the fight in us to give it all we can.”

Still, the season is not quite over yet. The first varsity boat will head across the pond to race for Temple Challenge Cup, a race that Zeng said would be against a “tough, international mix” of heavyweight and freshman crews. Although Zeng competed at Henley for the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup as a high school student, no other member of the Yale team has raced at the British event.

Yale won the Temple Challenge Cup in 1996, becoming the first non-British school to take out the race. The Bulldogs last won the event in 2000.

Max de La Bruyère contributed reporting.

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