Harvard, Yale should be close race

By John Veneziano
Globe Correspondent / May 28, 2011

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LEDYARD, Conn. — For rowing enthusiasts, today’s Harvard-Yale Regatta is certain to provide its traditional intrigue. Yale fans, however, are hoping it’s the start of a new era.

When the crews lower their boats into the Thames River late this afternoon, there will again be the spectacle of two of the world’s most prestigious schools meeting in the nation’s oldest intercollegiate athletic event, battling at a distance three times longer than a normal race.

What’s different is the coaching matchup. Harvard’s oarsmen will again be taking their cues from legendary Harry Parker, the team’s mentor for the past 49 seasons. Yale, meanwhile, will be getting its instructions from Steve Gladstone, who, though new to the Elis, is a towering figure in his own right.

Parker, a 1960 Olympian, has guided the Crimson to stunning achievements: 17 national championships, 23 Eastern Sprints titles, and 20 undefeated dual campaigns. Gladstone’s résumé is nearly as impressive, with 13 national titles and 11 conference crowns during stints at California and Brown.

Their career paths have crossed before. The two worked side-by-side when Gladstone coached Harvard’s lightweight crew in the early 1970s, and they’ve opposed each other in some memorable Harvard-Brown clashes in the ’90s and more recently in showdowns between Harvard and Cal for the IRA national championship.

“I’ve known [Steve] since the beginning of his career,’’ said Parker, yesterday at Harvard’s camp for the regatta in Ledyard. “And although I haven’t seen him up close for nearly 40 years, it’s obvious he’s an outstanding coach. He has his own style and his crews race aggressively.’’

Gladstone is similarly effusive. “By being in close proximity to [Harry] in those years, I developed a great deal of respect for his ability to reach people to achieve a common goal,’’ he said. “What he’s accomplished is any coach’s dream.’’

Parker has produced some of his best work at this storied regatta, which dates to 1852 and is capped by a grueling 4-mile varsity race. He has a 41-7 record against the Elis, at one point winning 18 in a row, and in 2010 his Crimson swept the varsity, second varsity, and freshman races for the third straight year.

Such dominance has taken a bit of luster off the event, but Gladstone’s arrival could be the equalizer Yale has long sought.

“It’s really exciting to have someone at the helm who has had so much success,’’ said senior Nate Reeve, who will handle the two seat for the Eli varsity. “The biggest changes have been the daily commitment and the understanding that we’ll only get out of it what we put into it.’’

“We have full faith in him,’’ added senior Alex Mastroyannis, set to row in the five seat for Yale’s second varsity. “And I’m absolutely sure he has studied the Harvard race and knows what it means to us. We’ll be prepared.’’

Although Gladstone may appeal for time and patience before being asked to match Harvard on the water — Yale’s last win here came in 2007 — he has a clear strategy.

“Our goal is produce our best race of the season. That in and of itself is a significant challenge,’’ said Gladstone, whose varsity is 3-3 and finished seventh at the Eastern Sprints. “Over 4 miles, you can’t constantly measure yourself against your opponent. You’ll become distracted and exhausted if you do. We have to stay focused on our boat, establish a good rhythm, and maintain it.’’

While the coaching story line has escalated interest in this year’s regatta, Parker doesn’t think the rivalry needs a shot in the arm.

“It’s been pretty intense the last few years,’’ he said, noting his varsity’s 5.9-second win last year. “There have been some good races. We’ve just had a little bit of an edge, that’s all.’’

Parker will unleash a veteran crew in pursuit of a fourth consecutive series win. Five oarsmen from last year’s varsity are back, fully aware of the physical and mental challenges that await.

“It’s the hardest race you can do,’’ said Crimson captain Anthony Locke, a three-year varsity oarsmen who will be in the four seat. “The length and side-by-side nature of it make it one of the premier races at any level of competitive rowing. The other crew is right next to you. There’s nowhere to hide.’’

Harvard-Yale regatta
What: Freshmen (2 miles), 3 p.m.; second varsity (3 miles), 3:45 p.m.; varsity (4 miles), 4:45 p.m.
Where: Thames River, New London, Conn.