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BC Plunges Into Annual Head of the Charles

BC Women's Rowing Improves To Fifth Place

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Boston is a city that embodies a certain New England heritage in its quiet cobblestone streets, historic trails, rattling old north and south churches, commons, and squares. But Boston’s eclectic past as a meeting place for people brought together by intellect, education, and sport is most evident in the mixture of intense competition and delighted celebration that characterizes the beloved annual Head of the Charles Regatta.

This past weekend, like every year, the stretch of the Charles River beginning at the Boston University Boathouse and ending approximately three miles upriver was swarming with people—kids running amok, dogs barking, moms and dads pushing strollers, college students mingling. The road closures along the north shore of the river opened up ample space for joggers, bikers, or walkers to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere as they passed the spectacle of sponsor and food tents that could be found along the way.

From the banks of the river, people of all ages congregated along the triple-arch bridges that intermittently cross the racecourse. Some stood and cheered, leaning over the edges, while some even sat on the sides of the bridges with legs dangling precariously in the wind. Boston’s stereotypically cold weather was nowhere to be found during the two-day festivities: As race-goers were offered a glimpse of warmer months, the edges of the river were brimming with smiles, chatter, and cheers as well as souvenirs, samplings of local fare, sweets, and treats of all kinds. The atmosphere was, to say the least, an invigorating taste of the spirit of competition and camaraderie.

Although it may seem to be just another of Boston’s beloved traditions, the race is actually much younger than many would guess—the first one was held on Oct. 16, 1965 and was hosted by members of the Cambridge Boat Club at the urging of a Harvard sculling instructor. Despite its youth, it is treated as a historic tradition nonetheless. Over the last 48 years, the race has grown to be the largest two-day regatta in the world, and attracts not only American teams, but also international competitors. In addition, rowers of all ages can participate in a variety of race classes, including youth, club, collegiate, championship, and senior and grand master. Championship races are the most prestigious, with the best in the world vying for titles. For example, the U.S. Rowing women’s team took the first-place title for the Women’s Championship 8-plus over the Women’s Great Eight, a team composed of eight Olympic scullers rowing under the Cambridge Boat Club. This year’s award was an attractive addition to the U.S. gold medal recently acquired at the London Olympics. They competed against teams that included the University of Virginia, which won the event last year but placed third in this year’s standings, and the Rowing Canada Aviron, which raced with its complete silver medalist team from the recent Olympics.

Many college teams competed in the Head of the Charles, and Boston College was well-represented in the rankings. The women’s team, which operates as a varsity sport, improved significantly from last year’s 16th place in the Club 8, placing fifth this year with a time of 17:32.903, 43.26 seconds behind Yale’s first place, which finished with a time of 16:49.643. The women’s team also pulled in sixth for the Club 4-plus event, with a time of 19:32.664—in 2011, the team placed third, earning a bronze medal. And for the first time, a women’s boat competed in the Alumnae Eight event, coming in 23rd out of 34 contenders, with a time of 19:38.118. Finally, a BC women’s eight boat participated in the Women’s Championship 8-plus race, placing 27th among the competitors. The Championship races bring together some of the best teams in the world, and therefore presented one of the more heated competitions during the two-day event. The men’s team, though a club sport under BC’s athletic program, also competed against varsity teams from other schools. BC men finished in 10th place in the Collegiate 8-plus, which took place Sunday afternoon, with a time of 16:15.

Interestingly enough, the name of the regatta is actually descriptive of the course—a “head” race is approximately three miles in length, with boats racing primarily against the clock, then each other. The winner gains the honorary title as “head of the river,” or in this case, the “head of the Charles.” While the competition is fierce, rowing is undoubtedly a graceful and very well-mannered sport, which in turn preserves something about the nature of tradition that is rapidly being lost among other sports competitions. This past weekend showed evidence that the Head of the Charles not only gives people an excuse to show pride in their school or their country, but also in the history and the past that their city has consciously maintained and continued to celebrate over the years. n

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