The Eight: A Season in the Tradition of Harvard Crew


A fascinating look at the 2008 Harvard Varsity Crew Team and the university’s legendary history of accomplished rowers

The Eight is a thrilling, behind-the-scenes look at a group of young men who have given up nearly everything to transform themselves into the best team possible at arguably the world’s most venerable rowing institution, Harvard crew. Through a blend of journalistic writing and historical narrative, Saint Sing highlights their ...

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The Eight: A Season in the Tradition of Harvard Crew

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A fascinating look at the 2008 Harvard Varsity Crew Team and the university’s legendary history of accomplished rowers

The Eight is a thrilling, behind-the-scenes look at a group of young men who have given up nearly everything to transform themselves into the best team possible at arguably the world’s most venerable rowing institution, Harvard crew. Through a blend of journalistic writing and historical narrative, Saint Sing highlights their struggles and triumphs as she follows them through the spring season of 2008.
This exclusive, competitive world is illuminated as never before as the athletes race for the collegiate national championship and one former member achieves a historic first for Harvard: a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games.
What these men go through physically to earn a seat in the Harvard first eight is just the beginning. The real test of their mettle is the inner athlete called upon to make their dreams a reality in this very tense and dramatic world. The Eight chronicles the drama of a full season of elite college racing, including the bitter personal struggles and the team’s pursuit of excellence.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"At last, a rare and hotly anticipated opportunity to peek beneath the kimono of Harvard crew." --Brad Alan Lewis, Olympic Gold Medalist and subject of David Halberstam's The AMATEURS
"I am sure Harvard as a family and Coach Parker will appreciate this sensitive effort. It is as fine a piece as I've ever seen written about a crew and their heritage and ethic.  Susan is a sponge of rowing lore, a super magnet of issues that are important, and a loyal friend of all those who ply the water for speed or for personal enlightenment.  She gives us balance often when winning is catching up with humanity." --Ted Nash, Olympic Rowing Gold Medalist and 15-time U.S. Olympian.

Publishers Weekly
Although Harvard's legendary varsity crew did not measure up to expectations in intercollegiate competition in 2008, four of its alumni competed in the Beijing Olympics, and one—Malcolm Howard rowing for Canada—won the gold. In this fluid, thorough work by a former member of the U.S. National Rowing Team, journalist Sing takes a breathlessly reverential survey of the tradition of Harvard crew, first established in the Yale-Harvard regatta of 1852, expanded by innovative Harvard president Charles Eliot and championed by alum (and sculler) Teddy Roosevelt at the turn of the last century. The event's apotheosis came during the undefeated 1974–1975 season, coached by Olympian Harry Lambert Parker. Sing carefully notes Parker's coolheaded training method during early morning practices at the Newell Boathouse, where “you can smell time.... a place hallowed by deed and deserving of awe.” Over 46 years with Parker at the helm, the Crimson crews have gained 19 undefeated seasons and 17 national championships. Sing is besotted by Harvard's longstanding influence on athletics and makes an enthusiastic case for the role of sports in defining a noble character. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Here is the story of the 2008 spring season of the Harvard University varsity crew, also providing a brief history of rowing at Harvard. Sing (Wonder Crew: The Untold Story of a Coach, Navy Rowing, and Olympic Immortality) is knowledgeable about her subject, having competed as a rower on the 1993 U.S. World Rowing Team. The season she chronicles was tumultuous for the Harvard crew and their enigmatic coach, Harry Parker, with many ups and downs. The team doesn't make the finals at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship Regatta, a rarity, and they also lose to arch rival Yale. On the positive side, one of their former rowers goes on to win a Gold Medal in the 2008 Olympics. Sing has a dynamic style that brings excitement to her documentation of this sport, but she is also prone to hyperbole, which can be distracting. VERDICT On the whole, this account is recommended to any individuals interested, or thinking of becoming interested, in American rowing and its Ivy League history. (Photos not seen.)—Todd Spires, Bradley Univ. Lib., Peoria, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Hagiographic account of the 2008 Harvard rowing season and a general paean to all things Harvard. "The first collegiate sports competition," writes former U.S. World Rowing Team member Saint Sing (The Wonder Crew: The Untold Story of a Coach, Navy Rowing, and Olympic Immortality, 2008), "was a rowing race between Harvard and Yale" in 1852. Since then, Harvard crews have dominated the sport of rowing as no other college team has done in any other sport. The author follows the trials and tribulations of the elite of the elite-V8, the men's heavyweight varsity eight of 2008-as they attempt to continue this tradition of excellence. Saint Sing ably captures the grueling nature of the sport, in which the athlete must exert maximum physical effort and mental concentration over the full course of a race, and at the same time remain perfectly synched with the seven other crew members. She follows the scholar-athletes of the V8 as they train endlessly while fulfilling the demands of a Harvard education, and offers a loving portrait of Harvard's legendary coach, Harry Parker. The 2008 season started slowly for the V8 as they struggled in the early Dual Cup races, lost in the Eastern Sprints and experienced, for Harvard, a lackluster season-until the Harvard-Yale race, the most venerated of rowing competitions. With lightning-quick prose, Saint Sing describes the dramatic tension of the contest. Unfortunately, there is too little of this type of detail and too much overblown metaphor. Parker's coaching words "echo a call into the hollows of the soul where slumbering dreams nestle on a dark rock." The athletes become almost props: "regal, elegant, and a bit mysterious in their sleek, taut profiles . .. breathing promise in the morning mist." Harvard is not a university but a holy abstraction: "Alexandria on the banks of the Nile, Rome on the banks of the Tiber, Harvard on the banks of the Charles, each has its own link to the sacred, through temples, pyramids, and fountains that link the earth to the world above."Intermittently revealing but inundated with hyperbole. Rowing enthusiasts are better served by David Halberstam's now classic The Amateurs (1985). Agent: Joe Veltre/The Veltre Company
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312539238
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/16/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 321
  • Sales rank: 528,204
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

SUSAN SAINT SING has both competed in and coached rowing, and is an authority on rowing history. She was a member of the 1993 US World Rowing Team and lives in Stuart, Florida.

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Read an Excerpt


Rower Speak


I had been recruited heavily by Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth, so why did I choose Harvard? Because as soon as I walked into the boathouse I could smell a hundred years of sweat, and I wanted to be part of it, part of something great.

—Patrick Todd, Harvard crew, class of 2002, Olympian

A hundred years of sweat. Hundreds and hundreds of rowers. Thousands and thousands of strokes. Tens of thousands by career end. But the first step in making a Harvard crew begins the first time your oar hits the water. It is an individual moment, as individual as the question, why Harvard? Or, why rowing?

Newell Boathouse is an institution. In the turbulent years around 2008, it has seen other institutions undergo great change: Wall Street tottering; the Twin Towers still not rebuilt; the closing of the old Yankee Stadium, to be torn down leaving the dirt to Fen-way, the last pitching mound the Babe ever stood on. In a mounting global energy crisis, glaciers are melting, Boston Harbor is rising, and wind turbines in Nantucket Sound are helping us "to go green." All around the boathouse, the world is changing, yet at its feet lie centuries of tradition, hardly touched by any of the above.

Newell is covered with red slate siding, looking like a cranberry-colored Victorian fortress. Its roofline has a steely wrought-iron finial that rests on a gold ball atop the gables. Copper verdigris rain gutters and a crenellated roof meet the slate shingles.

As you open the heavy door, gray, wooden, one-hundred-year-old hand-hewn planks spread before you in the boat bay. They seem anachronistic as Michael Jackson’s 1988 hit song "The Way You Make Me Feel" pumps out its steady rhythm and beat from somewhere upstairs in the distance, presumably from the erg room where Crimson oarsmen are ticking meters away during their training pieces. Graceful arched windows rest majestically above the great five-panel two-inch-thick doors. You step inside. You see the water. You see the shells. This is Harvard rowing.

The massive black-and-white picture of the "Rude and Smooth," the undefeated crew of 1974–75, on the staircase landing tells you exactly where priority lies—perfection. Two national championships will do. The look on the faces of the Rude and Smooth digging not just into water but into souls and character formed inside an eight from this house makes almost every person walking in take pause. It serves notice that "this is the bar"; pass over if it you think you can—measure up to it, but do not pass under it. This is Harvard.

The Rude and Smooth symbolize the dream. They present a presence that no other team can. They represent the essence of what Harvard crew is about. If this were baseball, it would be as if, with every contest they attended, they brought the mound that Babe Ruth pitched off of and placed it in the middle of the field silently, without fanfare, without announcement; they simply placed it there because they could. It is theirs and they alone own it. Others might tear it a bit, wrinkle it in a defeat here and there; but they can’t wear it themselves, nor can they destroy the enigma and mystique. It is the essence of Harvard lore.

There are examples of New En gland lore bound inextricably by tradition and heritage. Take, for example, the Gloucestermen just a few miles north of Boston—they go and fish to such a high standard of maritime and nautical supremacy that the very word Gloucestermen conjures up its own image in people’s minds. So it is with Harvard oarsmen. They are expected to be of a certain ilk.

At the foot of the picture the great staircase—majestic, of dark wood, perhaps walnut or heart pine whose sap has darkened over the decades—invites you to lay your hand upon it, touch it, and start the walk upstairs. Underfoot, the crimson carpet that wraps upward to the balcony would be the envy of any Victorian home.

This is both boathouse and home if you are a member of the varsity eight-oared shell. In fact, you may feel more at home here than anywhere else because you are with like people who understand you. You don’t have to explain. Dogged effort, the need every morning upon rising to do something great that day, is on everyone here. You fit in here as an individual, as a teammate. At last everything is right. Youth, health, tradition, opportunity, all work in your favor at last. No one here asks, "Why are you getting up at 5 A.M.?" No one here asks, "Why are you wrapping that sock around your calf?" Or, "Where did you get those track bites? Do those blisters hurt?" No one here asks because everyone here knows that you do it because you must. You love it. You are in pursuit of something ethereal—the pursuit of an ideal. Call it excellence, call it perfection. "It" exists out there in the shrouded morning mists, and you must pursue it because it is your personal grail; and some others are here to join you in finding it.

In "Harry’s house" a "say-less-do-more" attitude prevails.1 The house itself bespeaks that motto. It is almost grim and cold, looking like a castle or suit of armor in its chain mail–esque red slate suit. It could be likened to a giant transformer: young, impressionable rowers and seekers walk through the massive orifice of its front door and—after passing through various contortions and readjustments of attitude, form, skill, trust, and self-reliance in the skillful hands of Harry Parker—return from the waters to stand as mature, confident oarsmen. This mettle gives Harvard an advantage on any dock because everyone knows what these men have gone through and who they’ve become to get there. It is a process of entitlement that every other crew must row upstream against.2

Newell Boathouse, often called "the elder statesman among Charles River boathouses," was built in 1900.3 Its plank dock fronts eight miles of rowable water along the Charles River. It is named for Harvard student Marshall Newell, who was struck by a train and died tragically on Christmas Eve, 1897.4 The Harvard grad, class of 1894, was walking back to his office with his collar turned up against the wind and driving snow when he was struck. The hands of his pocket watch stilled at 6:35 P.M., recording the time of impact. His picture rests on the wall at the top of the stairs, a portrait of the quintessential athlete in his rowing togs and Harvard crew shirt. A football and crew star, he is remembered for his goodness.

Newell’s classmates said of him, "An athlete in the best sense of the word, he loved sport for sport’s sake alone. In football strong and alert, he was effective without being rough. As an oarsman he was per sis tent, determined, powerful. Always to be trusted, his spirit never flagged, his courage never faltered. He was tried often and never found wanting. He stood for simplicity, righteousness, and truth. His character was as sturdy as his body."5

What does Newell say to the modern rower? Tyler Winklevoss ’07 muses, "There is a very special feeling when you enter Newell Boathouse. The creaking floors, old wooden boat bays, the pictures of past crews, it is impossible to forget the oarsmen who have come before you. There is an emphasis on the past history of Harvard crew and repeating it, becoming not only a winner but something more. The character of a Harvard oarsman is something that is unique in and of itself, it is something you will not find anywhere else, and is something you feel each and every day you walk through the doors of Newell Boathouse."

It is a sacred space. Boathouses are storied places. In his book, The Joy of Sports, Michael Novak talks about sacred space and sacred time as they relate to our love affair with sports. "The feeling athletes have for the arena in

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