Ledyard - During the first mile, the same thought kept going through the mind of Harvard sophomore Michael DiSanto.
"'Should I be pulling harder?'" DiSanto said he couldn't help wondering, as Yale's varsity heavyweight crew led the Crimson initially, then continued to push Harvard for the remainder of the race.
Only in the case of the Yale-Harvard Regatta, after a mile there are still three to go, nearly three times the length of a standard collegiate crew event.
"That last mile goes by so slowly," DiSanto said.
Harvard's cadence turned out to be just perfect Saturday in the 145th edition of the regatta, which was held upstream on the Thames River, from the Gold Star Bridge to Bartlett Cove. Harvard won its third straight varsity race in 19 minutes, 40.3 seconds to Yale's 19:46.2.
Harvard has won 10 of the last 11 races and is 41-6 in the tenure of legendary coach Harry Parker. The Crimson are 91-54 overall in the regatta, the nation's oldest intercollegiate sporting event of any kind. It was first rowed on New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee in 1852 and among its spectators over the years have been U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
It was the third straight sweep for Harvard, which also took the three-mile junior varsity race (14:46.8-15:02.4) and the two-mile freshman race (9:32.7-9:47.6). The Crimson, with five sophomores in their varsity boat, were coming off a win at the 2,000-meter Eastern Sprints, May 16 in Worcester, Mass.
"It was pretty tough," Harvard sophomore Patrick Lapage said of the first four-mile race of his career. "You've got to control yourself, pace yourself. You don't want to burn your bridges."
Yale led by approximately three seats through the first half mile, then still by a seat or so after the one-mile mark.
It was passing the Naval Submarine Base in Groton that things began to change. First, the wind shifted. Then, passing the Sub Base, Yale coach John Pescatore said he believes "maybe" the wake from the boats was rebounding off buoys there and back into Yale's lane on the right-hand side of the river. In any case, Yale's crew was forced to endure choppy water, seeming to lose a few strokes.
Harvard, meanwhile, was able to answer any challenge Yale had and eventually pulled away, winning by a length and a half.
"I think that confidence comes in two things," Parker, in his 48th season, said of the strength of his crew. "One is the skill of the crew. One is just their plain determination. … The crews were really extremely motivated."
Parker, thrown into the water by his crew following the victory, said Yale's early lead worried him, but didn't quite have him in "panic stage" just yet.
"I began to feel a little better with almost a mile to go, even though you still have to row hard all the way to the finish line," Parker said.
While Harvard won at the Eastern Sprints, Yale, seeded third entering the event, was a disappointing 11th. The Bulldogs lost their heat narrowly in the morning, then fared poorly in the petite final.
Pescatore was pleased with the turnaround Saturday, in spite of the loss.
"I'm proud of the way they raced; they were really aggressive and feisty," Pescatore said.
"The plan was just to be the aggressor, as soon as the boats got kind of settled in to fight for the lead.
"These guys, the sprints for them was a terrible, horrible blow. It took us more than a week to put that behind us and remember who they were, who they are. I think now they're starting to believe they're the crew they were before the sprints."
The winning boat for Harvard featured coxswain Kelly Evans, Lapage at stroke, Matt Edstein, Nick Jordan, David Wakulich, Sam O'Connor, DiSanto, Anthony Locke and senior captain Blake Pucsek in the bow. Lapage, Edstein, Jordan, O'Connor and DiSanto are sophomores.
Both teams head to the IRA National Championship this week in Camden, N.J.