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|Historically Significant 1897 IRA Rowing Regatta Broadside -
West Shore Railroad Special Trains and Observation Train
The 1897 IRA Regatta marked the coronation of Cornell's rowing dynasty, and was one of the most influential races in college rowing history.
For further details on the 1897 IRA Championship and Cornell's dynasty, click this link: Early Cornell Rowing History
| Cornell/Harvard/Yale – 1897 and 1898 Regattas:
Cornell last rowed against Yale and Harvard in 1875 and 1876. Even though Cornell's rowing program only begun in 1870, it won both races marking the school's emergence into the rowing
community, and making its oarsmen instant heros. After this humiliation, Yale and Harvard withdrew from the Rowing Association of American Colleges. Thereafter, they rowed only against each
other in a self-declared championship, refusing to allow others to join this exclusive club.
Even with the success that Courtney(Cornell Rowing Coach) and his Cornell varsity rowing team was having, both Harvard University and Yale University refused to race. It was believed that the
snub was because Cornell was a relatively young school and was not considered up to the class or academic standards. Others speculated that Courtney’s crews were too fast and losing to them
would be unbearable. The snub had its history dating back to the collapse of the Rowing Association of American Colleges. After repeated losses to what they thought were lesser schools, including
losing to Cornell at the 1875 and 1876 National Rowing Association of American Colleges Regatta, Yale and Harvard virtually stopped rowing against any one other than each other. Yale pulled out of
the association before the 1876 regatta while Harvard waited until the following year.
In the late 1890s, Courtney's Varsity team was finally able to compete against both Yale and Harvard due to events unrelated to rowing. After a very violent football game in the fall of 1894, the faculty
of Harvard suspended all athletic relationships with Yale, effective at the end of the 1894-95 school year. This included their annual regatta, which dated to 1852. In the summer of 1896, the first year
that Harvard and Yale did not meet due to the ban, Yale sent its Varsity to the Henley Royal Regatta in England.
That year, Harvard sent its varsity team to Poughkeepsie to race Cornell, Pennsylvania, and Columbia in the annual Intercollegiate Rowing Association Regatta. Courtney’s team beat all three schools
with a time of 19 minutes and 22.9 seconds for the four mile (6 km) course. The next year, Harvard and Yale ended their dispute when Walter Camp representing Yale agreed to Harvard's demands
for the next five years. One of Harvard’s demands was that they meet in all athletics that each school sponsored. Yale had wanted to be selective on which teams played each other. As part of an
agreement between the two schools, their rowing teams were to meet in Poughkeepsie, New York during the 1897 season. Since Harvard had already agreed to meet Cornell, they were also included.
Even given their past success, Courtney and his crew were given little chance to win a race against Harvard and Yale. The coaches of both of his opponents were on record that they both would beat
Cornell. Gamblers and bookmakers made Cornell a heavy underdog. Newspaper writers before the meet said that Cornell was not in the same class as Harvard and Yale. They also criticized Cornell’s
stroke as weak and in bad form. Even with the odds stacked against Cornell, Courtney believed his team could win, especially after seeing his competition row in practice. Courtney believed that
losing would mean the end of Cornell's fight for recognition.
The 1897 Cornell crew that raced Harvard and Yale was very different from the other two school’s rowing teams. First, Courtney’s crew was both lighter and shorter than their competition. The
Cornell team came in 100 pounds less than Yale and 72 pounds less than Harvard. The other major difference was that Harvard and Yale used a stroke that was influenced by English rowing while
Courtney taught his crew his very American stroke. Harvard, coached by Rudolph C. Lehmann, used a typical English stroke that was long and sweeping with the rowers stretching as far as possible
on the catch to drive the water hard. Yale, coached by Bob Cook, used a modification of the English stroke, using a much longer slide. Cornell's stroke featured a long stride with little back motion.
A large crowd showed up for the June 25th race, representing all three schools that included several members of high society, including J. Pierpont Morgan and August Belmont, Jr.. An estimated
25,000 fans watched the race, including 4,000 people who bought tickets on the open-air 50-car observation train. The observation train sold out at $15 a seat, which was considered a very high
price for the day. Scalpers were selling tickets for seats on the train at even higher prices.
In the race, Harvard took the early lead out of the gate with Yale second. Both of the leaders’ strokes were long and slow while Cornell stuck to its stroke. At the half mile mark, Yale edged in front of
Harvard but could not hold the lead form a surging Cornell who took a half boat lead by the end of the first mile. The Courtney-coached crew continued to build on their lead while Harvard sputtered
and fell well behind Yale. Throughout the race, Cornell’s coxswain, Freddie Colson, motivated his teammates by reminding them of what their critic had said about them before the race. About a half
mile from the finish, Yale tried to make a move but it was too late—Cornell won by 3 lengths.
The victory was not only seen as Cornell dominance in American college rowing, but the superiority of America and the American stroke over the English stroke. Newspapers across the nation
proclaimed the superiority of the Courtney’s American stroke. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that "there is another thing in Cornell’s victory to rejoice over, and that is that hers was the distinctly
American stroke. We feel sorry for Mr. Lehmann but must admit we did not look for his stroke to triumph." The Minneapolis Tribune wrote that "the splendid victory...was not more a tribute to the
superior muscle and methods of the Ithacans than it was a rebuke to the all too prevalent practice of going abroad for our manners." Even with a victory, both schools continued to see Cornell as
inferior. A Yale professor was quoted as saying, "In the future, let us play with people in our class.”
The following year, 1898, Cornell would beat both schools again, this time in New London, Connecticut. After that defeat to Cornell, Yale and Harvard decided to return to meets against only
After 1897, led by coach Courtney, Cornell dominated college rowing, winning 14 of 24 IRA championships during his regime, and taking second six times. His crews won 98 out of 146
races, sweeping regattas seven times.
Story of the 1897 IRA Regatta: http://www.rowinghistory.net/cornell.htm
|June 15, 1897, Cornell-Harvard-Yale Regatta.
This megaphone was used to cheer Cornell to another victory at this 1897