SACRAMENTO, CALIF. -- Columbia's varsity lightweight eight had been a frequent qualifier for the Grand Final at the Men's National Lightweight Championships, held in conjunction with the venerable IRA Championship Regatta.
But as well as the Lion lightweights rowed each season, a medal had always eluded them -- until this year. Rowing a superb race, the Columbia lightweight eight gained a bronze medal by finishing third in the National Championships on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif. It was the first medal earned by a lightweight eight at the nationals since 2003.
From the time Columbia broke off the starting line virtually even with Harvard, the prohibitive favorite, until it crossed the finish line in 5:55.744, just 1.5 seconds behind the victorious Crimson, the Lions rowed a well-planned, well-executed 2000-meter tour de force.
They just missed overtaking second-place Yale, 5/10 of a second ahead in 5:55.241, and held off a fast-closing Dartmouth eight, which was just .224 of a second out of third.
Head coach Scott Alwin was beaming after the race, and the medal presentations. He noted that the three-boat pack not only held off Cornell, in fifth place, and sixth-place Princeton, but refused to allow Harvard to pull away for an easy win.
"It was great to be in that pack," he said, "and not let Harvard run away with it."
Columbia was second behind the Crimson for much of the race, alternately leading and then falling behind Yale. The Bulldogs pulled slightly ahead in the last 500 meters, and then it was the Lions vs. the Big Green for the bronze medal.
Rowing teams formulate extensive race plans, but only the best teams execute them well. Columbia executed its plan flawlessly.
As Dartmouth, which trailed the whole field at one point, crept back into contention, the Lions kept a wary eye. "Dartmouth made a move in the last 500 meters," Alwin noted. "They reduced the margin between us." That's when the Columbia plan ignited.
"We had [planned] a progression for the last 500," the coach said. "We did not row urgently, but we hit each move at the right time, just as we had planned. If we had started too early or too late, we would have lost [our margin]."
The varsity four also got off to a great start in its opening heat, right up there with favored Cornell, Yale and Princeton. They were still up with the leaders in the first half of the race, but slipped back to fourth after that, one place from qualifying for the Grand Final.
"They raced well," Alwin said, "but they didn't row their race enough."
Consigned to the Petite Final for the second straight year, Columbia's varsity four won it, just as they had done in 2012. They were timed in 6:54.276, 4.5 seconds better than runner-up MIT, with Penn third.
"I'm glad we were able to give John Zucchi a win in his last Columbia race," Alwin said of the senior rowing in the varsity four's third seat. Three seniors in the eight also rowed their final Columbia race -- John O'Mara (second seat), Blake Pinell (fourth seat), and coxswain Stone Cao. Each went out with a national championship bronze medal hanging from his neck.
National Men's Lightweight Championship at IRA Regatta
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Lake Natoma, Sacramento, Calif.
Varsity Lightweight Eights, Grand Final
1. Harvard, 5:54.221 - gold medal
2. Yale, 5:55.241 - silver medal
3. COLUMBIA, 5:55.744 - bronze medal
4. Dartmouth, 5:55.968
5. Cornell, 6:00.193
6. Princeton, 6:00.435
Varsity Lightweight Eights, Heat One
1. Harvard, 5:57.232
2. Princeton, 5:58.859
3. COLUMBIA, 6:01.188
4. Georgetown, 6:08.683
Varsity Lightweight Fours, Petite Final
1. COLUMBIA, 6:54.276
2. MIT, 6:58.809
3. Penn, 7:11.299
Varsity Lightweight Fours, Heat One
1. Cornell, 6:43.180
2. Yale, 6:44.382
3. Princeton, 6:45.067
4. COLUMBIA, 6:50.881
5. Penn, 7:08.773
Today's Boatings at the National Championship:
Stone Cao, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; James Winford, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Jacob Buczek, 5; Blake Pinell, 4; Roger Stone, 3; John O'Mara, 2; Griffin Whitlock, bow
Erica Cunningham, cox; Colin Ross, stroke; John Zucchi, 3; Oliver Ingram, 2; Steven Boyle, bow