8 Great Moments in Collegiate Rowing History

As spring brings its bright colors, longer days, and conference championships, students at colleges and high schools across the country are busy preparing for graduation and all the important festivities surrounding their progression from one major milestone to the next.

For the rising college freshman rower in your life, choose one of RowingPad’s performance-enhancing boat or erg pads. It’s a unique, thoughtful graduation gift that will last for years. Come training time, he or she will feel confident arriving with a pro tool (or two) under arm—not to mention grateful to have the added comfort on those early morning pieces.

Shopping for a big-time senior, poised to start his or her first job or relocating to a new city—hopefully one near a great body of water and with access to an erg to continue their passion for the sport? A new pad is the perfect accessory for beginning a fresh chapter and advancing to the next level as an active rower.

And here’s our graduation gift to you: use code RPGRAD for 10% off your purchase.

And who knows? You could be playing your small part in the career of one of collegiate rowing’s all-time greatest athletes or a future Masters champion. As a tribute to all of this year’s proud graduates, we take a look back at eight of our sport’s most celebrated collegiate moments and hard-earned achievements.

1) August 1852: Harvard and Yale Make Collegiate Rowing History in the U.S.

Image Credit: Harvard Varsity Club

Beyond being the oldest collegiate rowing event in U.S. history, this legendary race was also the very first intercollegiate sports event in the country—period. Before any other American sport, there was rowing, and the Harvard-Yale Regatta, still a major annual highlight of collegiate crewing today, began its tradition in 1852, when Yale challenged Harvard (as the story goes) “to test the superiority of the oarsmen of the two colleges.”

On August 3, on the waters of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, three boats (two for Yale; one for Harvard) raced two miles for victory. Harvard’s Oneida won, claiming a pair of black walnut, silver-inscribed oars (presented by then-General Franklin Pierce) as their trophy. Today the regatta, which is held on the Thames River in Connecticut, is a central part of the storied Yale and Harvard rivalry.

2) July 1914: Harvard Heavyweights Make Henley History

Columbia might have been the earliest rowing team to upset British tradition when it became the first foreign crew to clinch the Visitors’ Challenge Cup, in 1878, at the legendary Henley Royal Regatta. But it was the Harvard Crimson junior varsity heavyweights, in 1914, who became the first American crew to win the race’s coveted Grand Challenge Cup. Harvard would go on to win the Grand Challenge Cup four more times (in ’39, ’51, ’59 and ’85)—more than any other U.S. university.

In fact, Harvard’s heritage at Henley merits another recounting: Flash forward 71 years to 1985, at the 140th annual Henley Royal Regatta, when Harvard and Princeton found themselves in the first all-American showdown for the finals in 18 years. The Crimson won the Grand Challenge Cup again, speeding down the Henley-on-Thames and past the finish three and two-third lengths ahead of Ivy League rival Princeton. The victory capped off a season of intense rivalry between the two crews.

3) August 1920: The U.S. Naval Academy Crew Sparks an Olympic Gold Medal Streak

With an intense global atmosphere following the end of the World War I, the U.S. was determined to make a good showing at the 1920 Olympics in Belgium. Up until that point, professional rowing teams had competed for America at the Olympic level, but the British had dominated the competition. For the games in Antwerp, the country called upon the best college team to represent the U.S.

The Navy rowing team defeated Syracuse in the Olympic trials and traveled to Antwerp aboard the USS Frederick . On August 29, the eight collegiate Americans made Olympic and rowing history when they beat England’s undefeated Leander Crew in the finals, recapturing the gold for the U.S. and kicking off a streak of gold medal wins in rowing (earned by the top college team) for every Olympic Games until 1948.

4) June 1965: First-Season Northeastern Rowing Program Wins Dad Vail Trifecta

Image Credit: Northeastern University

Most sports teams don’t even dream of winning a title in their first year, but the Northeastern University rowing program, which began in 1965, made history with a freshman season destined for the record books. With just a year of training and virtually no competitive experience, the Huskies accomplished something that only one other school has managed in more than 45 years: sweeping the prestigious Dad Vail Regatta.

More than 10,000 spectators witnessed NU’s Cinderella story along Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River in June of 1965, as the Huskies finished first in the varsity, JV, and freshmen races. But as of early 1964, not one of those oarsmen had sat in a shell before. The dramatic transformation from rookies to champions took place in the space of a year, and the intense training and unanimous enthusiasm for the program produced an extraordinary debut racing season. In that fateful June race in ‘65, the varsity eight trailed Marietta by a length with 200 yards to go, but—with the practiced ease of seasoned racers—they picked up the pace and pulled ahead for the win in the final 20 meters. That determination would define the Huskies crew program as it continued to grow and thrive.

5) June 1975: Wisconsin’s Women’s Crew Wins the National Title

Image Credit: University of Wisconsin

The first women’s collegiate rowing program was established by Wellesley College in 1875—but it would take nearly 100 years for female student rowers to be able to compete in an organized national championship. In 1971, college women’s crew teams began competing in the National Women’s Rowing Association Championship…and later that year, a women’s rowing club was founded, by a freshman swimmer, at the University Wisconsin.

Just three years later, the young Badger crew would claim the 1975 NWRA championship. Though the program received official intercollegiate sport status in 1974, many of the UW women were newcomers to the sport. But through hard work, determination, and fierce camaraderie, the team ended its first season with the NWRA title on June 16, racing 1,000 meters against not just the country’s best college programs but also leading national rowing clubs. This group earned an impressive 25 consecutive victories as a varsity eight and set a winning precedent for UW women’s rowing for years to come.

6) October 2014: UVA Men’s 4 Best Their Own Record at Head of the Charles

Some of the most breathtaking moments in rowing are the also the most unexpected, when underdogs come together for a moment of magic and major course records are broken. Such was the setting for the 2013 Head of the Charles race, when four upstarts from the University of Virginia—two first-years with no college-level racing experience paired with a second-year and a third-year—beat out Purdue and Michigan in a truly thrilling race, besting the men’s collegiate 4+ course record.

As fall of 2014 approached, the magic foursome were under pressure to deliver again, which would make four straight wins in the HOTC collegiate 4+ for the UVA program. And deliver they did, not only claiming the title but finishing 20 seconds ahead of second place and besting their own prior year’s record by 10 seconds. The new course record is especially remarkable given that the HOTC is a race against the clock, demanding the rowers to give their all for 16 minutes (and 16 seconds) without the push of surrounding competition.

7) May 2015: The Men’s Rowing Program at University of Washington Makes History

Image Credit: University of Washington

The West Coast rowing powerhouse made IRA Regatta history in 2015 when it became the first program since the race’s founding in 1895 to win five consecutive men’s varsity eight national titles. The Huskies also completed a five-race sweep of the heavyweight championship races (accomplished only two other times in the regatta’s history, in 2012 and 2013, also by UW) that year, winning the varsity eight, second varsity eight, third varsity eight, freshman eight and varsity four.

The UW rowing program was founded in 1899 and has maintained a winning tradition decade after decade. For an in-depth look at its success, check out The Boys in the Boat , which recounts the story of the school’s gold medal win in the 1936 Olympics.

8) May 2016: Ohio State Women Claim Unprecedented NCAA V8 Three-peat

Image Credit: Row2K

At last year’s NCAA Championships, California had considerable momentum heading into the women’s varsity eight race, claiming the varsity four and the second varsity 8 and lining things up for a first-ever three-event sweep. But the Ohio State women’s team, which had won the V8 title the past two years, had other plans.

That morning in Gold River, California, the Division 1, No. 3-seed Buckeyes pulled from behind and seized control of the race at the 1,000-meter mark. The determined group maintained nearly a full-length’s lead for the majority of the final 1,000, finishing as the fastest boat in America in a time of 6:19.04 and becoming the first team in NCAA history to win three-consecutive 1V8 championships.

Best of luck to all this year’s graduates from the RowingPad crew! Don’t forget to use code RPGRAD for 10% off your purchase. Check out our pads now. 

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