The University of Washington overcame a three-hour delay, a flock of geese and Britain's national eight today to bring the Henley Royal Regatta's top trophy back to the United States for the first time since 1959.
The Huskies led the British crew, which rowed for Lander and Thames Tradesmen Clubs, except for the race's first 10 strofkes. The final margin was one length.
As if Seattle's claim to be the U.S. collegiate rowing capital needed any reinforcement, another Washington crew won the Visitor's Cup, an event for uncoxed fours.
There were no other American winners.
The Grand Challenge cup final was delayed from its midafternoon start when a stretcher mechanism in the British boat broke. The Huskies "went home" to their local digs to rest before the rescheduled race at the end of Henley's final day.
The start was delayed again several minutes by a flock of geese on the course, directly in front of the Washington boat. The umpire's launch had to come around and shoo them away.
Meanwhile, the Huskies chatted with their British opponents, relieving their tension, according to stroke Mike Hess.
After a poor start, Washington fell behind by a man after the first 10 strokes, but it soon took the lead for good. After a half-mile, the Huskies led by a half-length, but this was eroded slightly to one-third of a length by the mile signal.
In the next 200 yards, Washington increased the margin to two-thirds of a length and gradually crept away to the finish.
Crew members had enough breath left to hail their success with whoops of joy that began as soon as they crossed the finish line and continued until they pulled their boat up to the dock.
"They responded tactically along the course just perfectly," coach Richard Erickson said.
Hess said he, at least, had remembered the advice repeated over the past week by Washington boatbuilder Stan Pocock, one of the Washington entourage.
Pocock's one-word tip had been "legs" to remind the Huskies to concentrate on their legs to avoid the trap of thinking they were rowing harder than they actually were.
"Legs are the key to winning the race because that's the strongest muscle," Hess said.
The Huskies' biggest psychological boost in their efforts to shift rowing supremacy from America's Northeast to the West Coast came from their finished ahead of Harvard at the Nottingham Regatta, Erickson said.
The Huskies had won the Pacific-Eight championship and finished second to Pennsylvania at the San Diego invitational. Neither Washington nor Harvard competed in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships because of conflicts with exam schedules.
Washington's other winner here, the Uncoxed Four, beat Lady Margaret Boat Club of Cambridge by more than five lengths.
That also was the verdict in the loss by Harvard's Chris Wood and Gregg Stone to Britain's Mike Hart and Chris Baillieu in the double sculls.
Jim Dietz of New York Athletic Club lost in the final of the single sculls, as he has on several other occasions.
The only other North American winner was a Canadian prep school. Ridley College, which already had won the Stotesbury Cup and the Canadian Schoolboy championships and finished second in the American Schoolboy championships.
Today, Ridley won the Princess Elizabeth Cup for the fourth time in eight years.
No records were set this year on the course, but Washington set one at the prize-giving ceremonies that it likely to stand for a long time.
Competitors usually have to meet the strict coat-and-tie dress code of the tradition-bound Stewards' Enclosure when they receive their medals.
But this afternoon, Erickson convinced a rather downcast regatta official that his crew would have no time to go "up the hill" to get their clothes. After all, he said, it wasn't their fault that the race had been postponed several hours.
So the Huskies, first American grand winners since Harvard in 1959, went in their rowing gear to accept their medals from International Olympic Committee chairman Lord Killanin.