Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Coming off of three consecutive national championships, the Yale heavyweight crew team had been training for months to prepare for its opening race on March 28. The lightweight crew, ranked fourth in the nation, and the women’s crew, ranked ninth, also had promising seasons ahead of them. However, on March 11, the unanimous decision to cancel spring athletics ended the Yale crews’ quest for championships. For the senior rowers, the cancellation represented an abrupt end to their collegiate rowing careers. 

Fueled by three consecutive Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships and five straight Eastern Association of Rowing Colleges titles, the heavyweight crew was primed for another chart-topping run. Head coach Steve Gladstone, recognized as a legendary coach with 14 career IRA championships, has steered the program to the top of the collegiate rowing landscape. 

“All the boats performed their best races of the year — that was gratifying,” Gladstone said after the crew’s most recent national championship. “The three-peat for the national title felt awfully good. This is an exceptional crew … one of the most distinguished crews I’ve ever coached. Consistently throughout the season, [with] consistent speed and impeccable execution on game day. Impeccable and really dominant.”

The Bulldogs’ lightweight crew also achieved great success in their spring training after its strong Eastern Sprints Jope Cup performance in which every athlete won a gold or silver medal. The women’s program is also among the nation’s premier programs, finishing in the top 10 of the NCAA Championship across each of its past three seasons. Across all three programs, the class of 2020 seniors have been instrumental in their teams’ successes.  

Heavyweight crew head coach Steve Gladstone (Photo: Yale Athletics)

The 2017 and 2018 championships were the first and second titles earned in the school’s history. All eyes were on the Bulldogs going into the 2019 season, but the Bulldogs were not fazed by the pressure. The team kicked off their season in claiming the Albert Cup for the sixth year in a row. Soon thereafter, the dominant team emerged victorious at the San Diego Classic, defeating westcoast powerhouses Cal and Stanford. The heavyweights then swept Dartmouth for a fourth consecutive time in their home opener. 

By the end of the 2019 campaign, the heavyweights had a fully stocked trophy case. The team won the Blackwell Cup, their sixth straight Carnegie Cup, fifth straight Eastern Sprints and Rowe Cup, and topped off the season with a third straight IRA national title, making the 2020 seniors three-time champions. All boats at the national championship medaled for the first time in Yale history. The seniors graduate three-for-three at the Ancient Eight, National, and Yale-Harvard Regatta, the country’s oldest intercollegiate competition

Members of the team have also had success beyond Yale. Among the 2020 heavyweight seniors are Leonard Jenkins ’20 and Thomas Digby ’20, both of whom won gold for Britain at the 2019 World Championship after winning silver medals the year prior. Woods Connell ’20 won silver in 2019 and Thomas Beck ’20 placed eighth in the straight four, both for the United States.

Upon hearing news of the season’s cancellation, the heavyweight rowers went out to the water one final time to commemorate their team’s comraderie and success. They split into boats based on class year, and the seniors took control. As the seniors crossed the finish line ahead of the underclassmen, they cemented their legacy as one of the winningest cohorts of athletes in Yale history.

As first-years, the class of 2020 lightweight crew team finished 7–1 in the varsity eight. The team ranked 6th at the Sprints and finished its 2017 season with a bronze at the IRA National Championship. In their sophomore year, the crew finished 6–2 in the varsity eight and won the first ever Y150 4V medal at the EARC Sprints. 

This past season the 2V, 3V, and 4V all went undefeated in the regular season. The EARC Sprints concluded with the 4V taking gold, and 1V, 2V, 3V, and 5V4 each taking silver. With the most points of any lightweight crew, the Elis captured the Jope Cup for the first time since 2016. 

“That’s something that’s gonna stick for a bit,” lightweight captain Brian O’Donnell ’20 said after the season was cancelled. “But I’m so proud of our group and everything that we did, so [I] take pride in that even if we didn’t get to race… I’ll still know that a lot of the work that we did this year hopefully will pay off next year.”

The women’s crew team has been the top Ivy League finisher two out of the past three years, with this year’s team having been within reach of an NCAA Championship run. 

Photo: Yale Athletics

Nine of the 10 seniors won medals in each of the past three years they competed in the Ivy Championship. The team’s seniors were also among those Elis representing Yale internationally at Henley Women’s and Henley Royal Regatta.

“As racing athletes, the team is constantly chasing speed,” women’s coach Will Porter said. “It is a never-ending process and something that keeps them fully engaged. Chasing your top end speed is one of life’s best challenges.”

Although the coronavirus presented an unanticipated challenge for all of Yale’s crews, Porter’s comments highlight the unwavering nature of rowing as a sport. Motivated to chase faster speeds, Yale’s crews will continue to push forward, despite the challenges coronavirus throws in their way. When the situation permits, the heavyweights, lightweights and women will return to the water ready to build upon the legacy and achievements of their predecessors from the class of 2020.

Drew Beckmen |

Sophie Kane |