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Man-Yan Lam ’11 guides the MIT women’s lightweight team down the Charles during the Head of the Charles regatta on Sunday. “Every time we passed under a bridge, there would be spectators yelling encouraging words to motivate us,” said lightweight rower Lizzy Wei ’12.
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MIT’s four varsity crew squads rowed competitively in this weekend’s 46th Annual Head of the Charles Regatta. The four squads — the men’s lightweight, women’s lightweight, women’s openweight, and men’s heavyweight teams — all bested last year’s performances.

The men’s lightweight team placed 12th of 21 teams; the women’s lightweight teams placed 8th of 12 teams. MIT’s men’s openweight team placed 31st out of 35, while the women’s openweight team placed 24th out of 30.

The Head of the Charles is the world’s largest two-day rowing event, attracting over 8,000 athletes and a quarter million spectators.

Varsity heavyweight men’s coach and Director of Rowing Tony E. Kilbridge said the conditions for this weekend’s regatta were ideal. Kilbridge said that last year rowers “under performed” due to difficult weather conditions, including persistent rain and a snowstorm. This year, the rain had subsided and the water calmed before the championship and lightweight teams rowed in the premier events of the weekend Sunday afternoon.

Kilbridge said the major challenge of the race is its length. Whereas normal races are 2 km or 6 km, the Head of the Charles is 3.2 miles, or 5 km.

“The challenge is to obtain the best speed and maintain it throughout the race,” Kilbridge said.

This regatta didn’t count towards MIT’s standing in the Eastern Sprints League, which includes the Ivy League schools.

“We didn’t place as highly as we hoped in the Head of the Charles, but my goal for all of the rowers is to be competitive within their league,” Kilbridge said. The four squads each beat a few of the other crews within their league.

Lightweight women’s rower Lizzy Wei ’12 said that the enthusiasm of the spectators increased her squad’s confidence and built up its energy and adrenaline, improving its count stroke rating.

“Every time we passed under a bridge, there would be spectators yelling encouraging words to motivate us,” Wei said.

Wei said that the whole mentality of the team has been more focused this year, which resulted in an improved performance in this year’s race.

Despite graduating five of its top eight rowers last year, the lightweight men’s team, led by new head coach Will H. Oliver, had a stronger finish in this year’s race.

“Having a new coach has been inspirational for us,” coxswain Emily Shao ’11 said. “He pushes us really hard.”

The heavyweight men’s team was an especially young group this year, with four freshmen rowing in the championship eights boat.

Kilbridge said that the young team has “a lot of potential,” but that they also have a long way to go as the rowers are in the early stages of learning how to row at the college level.

MIT also raced second varsity squads Saturday afternoon in the men’s and women’s club eights events. The crew team will compete again this weekend, at the Princeton Chase in New Jersey.