The 2012 edition of the IRA Regatta begins tomorrow morning, and the look of the field has changed since the beginning of the year, though the front runners in our minds, Harvard, Washington, and Brown, had fantastic outings at the Head Of The Charles (finishing first, third, and fifth, respectively, with only a USRowing national team crew and a Deutscher Ruderverband eight forming the interstices). Our pick following last year's IRA, as well as in January, was Harvard, but the overwhelming feeling in the rowing community (and, more specifically, our readership) shows that Washington is the favorite, and the Huskies will enter as the No. 1 team in all three eights.
The incredible race for the Sprints title in the varsity eight between Harvard and Brown saw Harvard's bid for an undefeated season come to an end, and, while the Crimson were unbeaten prior to that race, they have not pushed out the margins in any of their races this season–Washington, by contrast, has won every race by open water. Still, we expect the Crimson to be the one to throw down a serious challenge to Washington for supremacy at the varsity level–Harvard will be hungry to atone for the loss at Sprints, and always seem put together a great race on the Cooper River.
In our opinion, Brown and Cal will be battling for the bronze medal. California seems to be the hardest hit following the loss of Olympic standout and seven seat of the Dutch men's eight, Olivier Siegelaar, but were still talking about only a few percentage points between the Golden Bears and the front of the pack–it wouldn't surprise us if Cal gets it right and sneaks in for a bronze. Other crews of note this season have been Wisconsin–the Badgers battled well against West Coast opponents in the early season, and took third at Sprints in the varsity eight, albeit some 10 seconds behind the top two crews–and Princeton. A resurgent Navy had quality results during the regular season and a solid fifth-place finish at Sprints, and Yale is a bit of a wild card–the Bulldog heavies seem to have found good early season speed, but, as in the recent past, have had difficulty holding onto it when championship racing comes along. Case in point, Harvard swept the Bulldogs once again at the 147th Harvard-Yale Regatta. Syracuse, Boston University, and Northeastern will also be fighting for spots in the Grand Final on Saturday.
In the second varsity eight, we are taking Washington to win, with Harvard and Wisconsin rounding out the medals in that order. Washington has been outstanding all season, most notably at the Cal dual, when the Huskies went sub 5:40 in all three eights (varsity, JV, and frosh), but both Harvard and Wisco will pose a serious challenge for the gold. In the frosh eight, we're taking Washington as well, ahead of Cal, whom we think will be close. Harvard is our pick for the bronze.
The Harvard lightweights are on pace for an undefeated season–and will remember that last year, in very similar circumstances, Yale reached out and snatched a perfect season away from the Crimson by the narrowest of margins to claim the IRA title. We are picking Harvard to take it this year, with Dartmouth solidly on the podium. Yale and Princeton will fight for a place on the podium as well.
As for the women's lightweights, it's a tough call between Stanford and Wisconsin. The Badgers got the season started with a bang, dominating the field at the Head Of The Charles, but since then, the Cardinal have won two-of-three match-ups with Wisconsin, and are the defending champions. At this point, because of the last meeting between Stanford and Wisco, which saw the Cardinal defeat the No. 1 Badgers by five seconds, we are taking Stanford, but, as with all lightweight racing, it will come down to who gets it done on the day. Bucknell and Radcliffe will be battling for the final place on the podium, with the Bison coming off a one-second victory over the Black and White at Sprints.