That the Lion lightweights would be successful Sunday was not surprising; the 2013 varsity eight had earned a bronze medal in the IRA National Lightweight Championship, and both the first varsity and second varsity had been ranked among the top three in the nation all of this spring.
It was the third varsity eight that got Columbia fans going, early Sunday morning. Pointing for a top three finish in the opening heat in order to qualify for the Grand Final, the Lions became enmeshed in a three-way battle for first. Cornell won the race in 5:55.701, with Yale and Columbia in a virtual dead heat for second. Yale was placed second, in 5:57.171, and the Lions third, about .6 back in 5:57.781.
The varsity eight's opening heat was another three-way conflict, with second-seeded Columbia, third-seeded Princeton and MIT, the sixth seed.
The Lions led for most of the race, giving way to the Tigers in the closing meters in order to conserve their strength. Princeton won in 5:48.966, 2.5 seconds in front of Columbia, as MIT qualified for the Grand Final in third.
Although facing strong opposition in Navy, Harvard and Dartmouth, the top-seeded Lion second varsity was unfazed, winning its heat in 5:57.133, three seconds better than the Crimson, another 1.5 over Dartmouth.
Columbia fans' appetites had been whetted; they could hardly wait for the afternoon finals.
First up after the break was the third varsity eights. This was the least experienced of the Lion eights, with a walk-on stroke, Andrew Bartholomew, and a coxswain (Julia Gron) who hadn't joined the crew until November.
But even veteran rowing fans couldn't tell. Columbia got off the line well, and shot into the lead with little more than 100 meters rowed in the 2000-meter race over Lake Quinsigamond.
It was still close, assistant coach Jesse Foglia remembered, when the Lions reached the halfway point, "and put it away".
Columbia won in 5:55.845, about two seconds ahead of Yale for the gold medal. The Bulldogs (5:57.827) barely edged Cornell (5:58.355) and Harvard (5:58.568).
With the medal, Columbia had equaled the achievements of the 1964 freshman lightweight eight and 2000 varsity lightweight eight, the only two gold medalists in Lion history. Surely there couldn't be another this year.
That thought persisted until the second varsity leapt off the starting line. In mere seconds, it had moved into the lead.
"They came off the line clean and sharp," Foglia said. The race was still close, with the other schools -- Princeton, Cornell, Yale, Dartmouth and Harvard -- contesting fiercely until about the 1000-meter mark.
That's when Columbia took a "power push", as the broadcaster on the live streamed video put it, and extended the lead.
The broadcaster loved it. As the Lions began to increase its margin, he couldn't contain himself. "Columbia looks like a million-dollar baby," he gushed.
The next announcer lauded the Lions' smoothness and speed. "The Lions have arrived, and are giving a roar!" he told his viewers. But the rowers were hardly fazed.
"We have great senior experience," Jesse Foglia noted, citing Lane Brokaw, Anders Smedsrud and Steven Boyle. "They keep the younger athletes focused."
In fact, Foglia said, the Lions were so focused that coxswain Yih-Jen Ku, for example, didn't even realize her boat was in the lead until the last 500 meters. She was so intent, the coach said, in getting them to do what they were capable of, to achieve "their peak performance".
And when Princeton, Cornell and Yale made their closing sprints, so, too, did Columbia.
"Nich talks of going into fourth gear," Foglia said, and that is what the Lions did. They won in 5:46.827, beating Princeton, 5:50.197, and Cornell, 5:50.581.
Columbia now had two Eastern Sprints gold medals. Would the varsity Grand Final see them net another?
The second-seeded Lions got off to a good start and began rowing smoothly, but Yale shot to the front, followed closely by top-seeded Cornell. Columbia tried to overtake the two, and did close on them.
"In the third 500," Parker said, "I felt we were not as good as usual." That gave the leaders sole possession of the lead. Princeton, which had lost twice to the Lions in the regular season by tiny margins, now came up to challenge for third.
Cornell held on for the win, in 5:39.417. Yale was second, less than a second behind, and Princeton edged Columbia for the bronze medal, 5:41.608 to 5:41.841.
"We're disappointed," Nich Lee Parker said, "but in two weeks [at the national championship], we'll be faster. We'll be able to challenge them again. We'll be ready."
Parker paused. "Sometimes," he noted, "the eye can't see what the heart can feel. The Columbia lightweights feel strong."
The Lions will enter a varsity eight and possibly a four in the National Lightweight Championship on the final day of the IRA National Championship Regatta, Sunday June 1, on Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J.
Columbia men's lightweights at the
Eastern (EARC) Sprints
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Lake Quinsigamond, Worcester, Mass.
Note: only the events in which Columbia participated are listed
Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. Cornell, 5:39.417
2. Yale, 5:40.349
3. Princeton, 5:41.608
4. COLUMBIA, 5:41.841
5. Harvard, 5:46.152
6. MIT, 5:52.180
Varsity Eights - Opening Heat
1. Princeton, 5:48.966
2. COLUMBIA, 5:50.517
3. MIT, 5:52.546
4. Navy, 5:54.220
5. Georgetown, 6:03.902
Second Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. COLUMBIA, 5:46.827
2. Princeton, 5:50.197
3. Cornell, 5:50.581
4. Yale, 5:52.271
5. Harvard, 5:56.844
6. Dartmouth, 6:03.596
Second Varsity Eights - Opening Heat
1. COLUMBIA, 5:57.133
2. Harvard, 6:00.144
3. Dartmouth, 6:01.961
4. Navy, 6:05.010
5. Georgetown, 6:12.490
Third Varsity Eights - Grand Final
1. COLUMBIA, 5:55.845
2. Yale, 5:57.827
3. Cornell, 5:58.355
4. Harvard, 5:58.568
5. Princeton A, 6:03.070
6. Navy, 6:11.934
Third Varsity Eights - Opening Heat
1. Cornell, 5:55.701
2. Yale, 5:57.171
3. COLUMBIA, 5:57.781
4. Princeton B, 6:07.654
5. Dartmouth, 6:28.375
Today's Columbia Boatings:
Erica Cunningham, cox; Griffin Whitlock, stroke; James Winford, 7; Fredrik Aasaaren, 6; Jacob Buczek, 5; Connor Dougherty, 4; Petros Krommidas, 3; Oliver Ingram, 2; David Mottola, bow
Second Varsity Eight
Yih-Jen Ku, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; Ben Blair, 7; Colin Ross, 6; Max Fenner, 5; Matt Bellesheim, 4; Lane Brokaw, 3; Oliver Grüterich, 2; Steven Boyle, bow
Third Varsity Eight
Julia Gron, cox; A. Bartholomew, stroke; Conor Murphy, 7; Warner Brown, 6; Chris Hatzis, 5; Daniel Puttman, 4; John Hold, 3; Bryan Ptucha, 2; Noah Rivkin, bow