Heavyweight crew takes fourth at IRAs

by Jeffrey Giuffrida | 6/21/96 5:00am

While the majority of Dartmouth athletes are getting a chance to relax during the summer off-season, one Dartmouth squad has no desire to slow down.

The Dartmouth men's heavyweight rowing team built on its sixth place performance at May's Eastern Sprints regatta by placing its eight-man shell fourth at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships on the Cooper River in Camden, N.J. in early June.

For Dartmouth varsity Coach Scott Armstrong, the impressive finish at the IRA, this year's unofficial national championship, was a boost to the squad's reputation.

"It means we're one of the top five crews in the country this year," he said.

But for varsity co-Captain and stroke Tom Gilmore '96, the impressive finish was a triumph against earlier adversity.

"We really didn't know how we were going to do,'' he said. "We had some lineup changes and we were kind of unsure of how we were going to do."

After the varsity crew squeaked into the semifinals with a close defeat of Gonzaga University, it faced Navy, Brown, Georgetown, Temple and the University of California, five consistent national powers.

"It was a really strong heat, and we knew it was going to be fast right off the line," Gilmore said.

And fast it was, as all six of the crews fought bitterly to be among the three crews to advance. After sinking to fifth, the Dartmouth crew fought back and sprinted at an astonishing 47 strokes per minute.

Dartmouth beat Navy, the nation's top rowing program for much of the season, to take first place by a mere .05 seconds, in a race where 2.3 seconds separated Dartmouth from the sixth-place crew.

"It was the most amazing race any of us ever rowed. The announcers were just going wild," Gilmore said.

In the finals, the squad ran into trouble after a quick start, but battled Navy again to take fourth place.

The junior varsity took 10th at the competition, while the heavyweight freshmen placed 14th.

Next up for the squad is the prestigious Henley Regatta on the Thames River in Henley, England, where the varsity will be competing against some of the world's best heavyweight, lightweight and club teams in the Lady's Plate competition and the junior varsity will compete against similar squads in the Temple Challenge Cup from July 3-7.

Prior to Henley, the squad will compete in the Reading Town Regatta, a more relaxed 800-meter sprint, held by the town of Reading, England on June 29.

Armstrong said the squad is thrilled to be travelling to Henley "We've worked very hard. They've risen to the challenge of going to the international regatta. Next to the Olympics and the World Championships, this is the next biggest crew race," he said.

Over the interim, the squad was practicing twice a day on the Connecticut River in preparation for the 2,300 meter Henley races. For a change of pace, the squad travelled to Gilmore's camp on Kezer Lake in Maine for five days.

Armstrong said he is cautiously optimistic about the varsity crew's chances at Henley.

"Henley definitely has a great number of unknowns. Unlike the collegiate season, where we know all our opponents, we'll be racing crews from around the world who we know very little about. But this varsity can win if they row their very, very best."

But for Gilmore, spending Independence Day competing in England has been an inspiration.

"The heavyweights are going to England with one theme in mind," he said. "1776, 1812, 1996 -- three-peat."