Varsity Rowers Make Their Season Debuts in Famed Head of the Charles
Courtesy: Columbia University Athletics/Gene Boyars
BOSTON, Mass. -- Like debutantes making their fall debuts, Columbia's varsity rowers joined more than 1000 fellow competitors Sunday, from every state of the Union and most foreign countries, at the sport's fall showcase, the Head of the Charles Regatta on the Charles River.
And although their times and placings varied greatly, the Lions' representatives enjoyed successful bows in the exacting competition.
The two men's heavyweight eights finished 14th and 30th among 34 in the Men's Heavyweight Championship Eights; the men's lightweight eight placed ninth in a 17-boat Men's Lightweight Championship Eights field; and the women's eight notched an 18th in the 37-boat Women's Championship Eights. Combined with the four alumni entries in Saturday's competition, there was, as heavyweight head coach Mike Zimmer said, "a lot of Columbia Blue on the water."
Zimmer's heavyweights had "a decent outing," the coach said. The A boat had "a good row. They rowed pretty long, but lower in cadence than we would have liked."
"The guys executed pretty well," he continued. "They rowed a clean race, but the lowered cadence cost us 15 strokes, or more. We need to row at a higher pace."
The B boat found itself in heightened competition, as very few colleges entered sub-varsity shells. The Lions got off to a good start, and closed well. Unfortunately, the coach noted, "they had a soft spot in the middle of the race."
The lightweight eight nearly equaled 2010's fine row in the competition. Last year's Lion lights had placed seventh in a 21-boat field, only to be put back to 18th by a disputed one-minute penalty.
This year, penalty-free, Columbia placed ninth of 17, rowing 15:16.99 for the three-mile course.
Their trip was not without problems, though. Starting all the way back in 18th due to the 2010 finish, Columbia soon encountered some slower crews.
"Starting right behind Dartmouth and MIT," head lightweight coach Scott Alwin noted, "we purposely left a large gap between us and Dartmouth, so we wouldn't have to row in Dartmouth's wake. Unfortunately, we soon overtook MIT; two or two and-a-half miles in, we clashed oars with them. That cost us time. We finished ninth, but we could have done better."
Although the lightweights' race gave them some experience navigating in a crowded field, it failed to demonstrate how fast they can go. "Next week's competition at the Princeton Chase," Alwin said, "will give us a better indication of our speed."
Scott Ramsey, Columbia's new women's rowing head coach, knew exactly what he wanted to see from his eight on the Charles.
Ramsey, who previously had assisted at Columbia before spending the past two years as assistant women's coach at the University of Iowa, set out with his staff this fall to raise the Lions' level of fitness.
"I felt we did that," he said. "They improved their fitness level. They used their fitness to get them through [the race]." Ramsey stressed that the crew should come out "aggressively, with an attitude," after two disappointing practices during the week. "Their practice runs were too soft," he said. "I wanted them to come out a lot harder today."
One of the benefits of head races are the races within the race, as boats that are nowhere near the front of the competition can stage mini-competitions with the boats who start immediately before and after them.
"We found ourselves between a Brown crew and Boston University at the start," the coach recalled. "We did a good job. We went out aggressively, with a rocket behind [us]. We moved through Brown at the halfway point and we put on more distance between us and B.U."
Ramsey was encouraged by his crew's debut, but cautioned against too much optimism, noting the large gap between Columbia's time and that of the race leaders. "We have a lot of ground to cover," he said.
All three Columbia rowing programs will compete at the Princeton Chase next Sunday on the Tigers' Lake Carnegie.

The Lions' rowing Sunday was preceded by several strong races from their alumni on Saturday.
An eight made up of recent women's rowers took top honors among the Columbia Blue athletes, finishing 14th of 30 in the Women's Alumni Eights race, in 19:08.80. A group of recent heavyweight and lightweight men were just behind, 15th in a 38-boat field in the Men's Alumni Eights, in a time of 16:46.40.
Another group of ex-lightweights, rowing as the King's Crown Rowing Association (KCRA), covered the course in 16:54.85, good for 25th, of 36, in the Men's Club Eights.
And a grand group of 1970's Lions, competing under the KCRA banner, spanned the Charles River course in 19:08.69 to finish 36th of 43!
Incidentally, after stroking the women's alumni eight Saturday, former Columbia All-American Libby Peters '06CC turned her attention to the present Columbia rowers Sunday. She has returned to Morningside Heights as assistant coach of the Lion women's program.
The results:

The Head of the Charles Regatta (three-mile head races)
Saturday/Sunday, October 22/23, 2011
Charles River, Boston, Mass.


Heavyweight Championship Eights, Men
Columbia A, 14th of 34, 14:54.80
Columbia B, 30th of 34, 15:35.91

Lightweight Championship Eights, Men

9th of 17, 15:16.99

Women's Championship Eights
18th of 37, 17:10.65


Senior Master Eights, Men (average 50+)
Columbia (Kings Crown Rowing Assoc.), 36th of 43, 19:08.69

Club Eights, Men
Columbia (Kings Crown Rowing Assoc.), 25th of 36, 16:54.85

Alumni Eights, Women
Columbia Alumnae Rowing, 14th of 30, 19:08.80

Alumni Eights, Men
Columbia Alumni Rowing, 15th of 38, 16:46.40