Washington Rowing Historical Timeline

With a men’s program reaching 120 years in 2023, and a women’s program with 50 years of modern history (and another ten in early history), a timeline of highlights is subjective at best. So please read this summary knowing these are selections of a much broader and far more important historical picture.

When the original history was written in 2003 for the UW Rowing Centennial, it was deliberately written as a continuing story, each year different but each year consistent and built on the same foundation as the year before. That foundation was created by Hiram Conibear and the men and women of those earliest years. The goal has been to continue the theme that Washington Rowing is unique in many ways, but particularly in the consistent values that drive the program and continue today in our coaches and student-athletes that row at Washington.

This timeline does not touch on the deeply human stories that define the program, and I urge anyone reading this summary to read the more in depth history. We have one book – The Boys in the Boat – that covers a small timeframe in the life of this program, and yet every year and generation has similar stories, and students, and coaches and leaders and every year could be a book. Some do not end as successfully, but the reality is many do in their own way.

And then finally this: a timeline, as a summary exercise, leaves years out. And yet every year has had a Washington Varsity 8 and a 2V8 and other boats, and some of those years end with national champions. Some end with west coast champions. Or amazing comeback stories or stunningly bad luck. I have always felt that, if we could line up every varsity 8 at their prime since our first in 1907… and have them race 2,000 meters… the winner would not be one of the favorites; it would just as likely be some dark horse year that you will not find on the timeline because at Washington, every Varsity 8 has high-level, dedicated athletes developed under the same core values.

So take this as the summary exercise it is. The real story of Washington Rowing, true since the very beginning, is the opportunity - as George Pocock would say - for young people to reach for the stars and succeed as a team together.

Note: The National Championship race distance, the sponsoring organization, and number of events have all changed multiple times since 1910. Today, for men, a national team champion is awarded (known as the Ten Eyck Trophy) based on points earned in all IRA events; however regardless of team results, the winner of the IRA (Intercollegiate Rowing Association) Varsity 8 race is considered the National Champion. That was also true for the women’s national championships through 1996; however in 1997, when the NCAA began governing the women’s sport, the officially recognized National Champion became the combined team (V8, 2V8, V4) with the highest point total, and not the Varsity 8 race.

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All written and audio content on this page, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted and written by Eric Cohen. For questions, comments, or history additions, please contact us at: webdev (at) huskycrew.org. Thank you.

  1895: The University of Washington moves from downtown Seattle to the new location between Lake Washington (to the east) and Lake Union (to the west). Rowing was taking place by 1896, with various official “start” dates, including 1896, 1899 and 1901. The first Class Day race took place in 1901, along with a “colleges” race (Forestry; vs. Arts and Sciences; vs. Engineering, etc).

  1903: Team rows/trains out of Union Bay (Lake Washington) boathouse; first intercollegiate race and the beginning of varsity rowing at Washington; racing in 4-oared wide body shells (wherries), the UW races California on Lake Washington in Seattle and wins.

  1907: Hiram Conibear arrives: Hired by the UW as a trainer for the football and track teams from the Chicago White Sox, he was asked to fill the vacant rowing coach role (for which he had no experience); he accepted, and the sport became his passion. Conibear re-developed the rowing stroke and permanently changed the sport; is one of only a handful of coaches that influenced rowing globally to the degree he did. At Washington, he set the foundation for the program (Rowing Stewards, Women’s Rowing, Varsity Boat Club and more) that still exists today.


1907 -1917: Women’s rowing at Washington: the only public university in the nation with a consistent women’s rowing program at the time. A thorn in the side of upper campus (who considered rowing “too rigorous” for women), and yet the program was one of the most popular on campus for women.

  1909: The team moves into the Alaska Yukon Exposition lighthouse building (after the fair was over) on Lake Union; Varsity Boat Club established.

  1912:  Dick and George Pocock, at the behest of Conibear, move from Vancouver BC to Seattle and set up shop on Portage Bay. Photo: thank you Al Mackenzie

  1913: First National Championship (IRA) competition for Washington at Poughkeepsie, NY; finishing 3rd and establishing Washington as a legitimate national contender.

  1915: First 8-oared shell built for the women’s team, by George and Dick Pocock, named the “1915 Co-ed”.

  1917: Hiram Conibear dies tragically; WWI starts and the campus is depleted of men; Pococks hired by Boeing; west coast rowing is upended and barely survives, women’s rowing cancelled.


  1919: Ed Leader assumes the head coaching role and makes a deal with the Navy and upper campus to move into the vacated Navy Hangar on the new (1917) Montlake Cut. That hangar-turned-shellhouse is being restored by the UW in the next three years; a replica will be featured prominently in The Boys in the Boat movie.


  1922: Ed Leader leaves for Yale; Rusty Callow (a major influence on Washington Rowing) becomes head coach; George Pocock is convinced by Callow to leave Boeing and return to the UW to pursue his passion of building shells (in a shop built for him by Callow in the ASUW shellhouse); Pocock said he was “forsaking the substance and grasping the shadow”.

  1923: First IRA Varsity 8 National Championship in Washington history; first west coast team to win the IRA.

    1924: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions

    1926: IRA Varsity 8 and JV8 National Champions, first two-boat win at the IRA for Washington

    1928: Callow leaves for Penn; Al Ulbrickson (stroke of the 1924-1926 V8) becomes head coach

    1933: Undefeated Varsity 8 wins the first collegiate 2,000m National Championship at Long Beach, CA over Yale, Cornell, and Harvard

    1936: Olympic Champions in the Eight at the Berlin Olympics; The Boys in the Boat; first sweep (Freshmen, JV, Varsity 8’s) of the IRA by any university in the history of collegiate rowing


1937: Varsity 8 National Champions and another IRA sweep


    1940 and 1941: Dominant Varsity 8 National Champions both years

    1948: Varsity 8 National Champions and another IRA sweep; Stern 4 of the JV8 win the US Trials as coxed 4+; the team goes on to win Olympic Gold in London in the coxed 4+

    1949/50: Team moves out of the ASUW Shellhouse and into the new Conibear Shellhouse at the current location

    1950: Varsity 8 National Champions and another IRA sweep; 4th sweep by the UW; everyone else, zero

    1952: Ulbrickson focuses on the coxed 4 with four of his top varsity rowers at the US Olympic Trials and it pays off: the team wins and goes on to win Olympic bronze at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland.

    1959: Al Ulbrickson retires; Fil Leanderson (’52 Olympic bronze medalist) becomes Head Coach

    1965: Additional housing wing completed at Conibear Shellhouse where the men would live together under the VBC banner for 30 years; Big W painted on the dock apron; men make stunning reversal to sweep west coast championships

    1968: Dick Erickson becomes men’s head coach, with a focus on international travel; women form a varsity club team under Coach Bernie Delke and row out of the old ASUW shellhouse

    1970: First “Opening Day” crew races in conjunction with the Seattle Yacht Club down the Montlake Cut; IRA Varsity 8 National Champions and IRA Team Champions; Men’s 4+ win US Trials and represent USA at the World Championships; Women’s club team wins National Championship in the Lightweight 4+, the first championship won by the women

    1971: Men win US Pan Am Trials in the Men’s 8; take the silver medal rowing as the USA at the Pan Am games in Cali, Colombia in the Men’s 8; UW women’s club lightweight 8 and 4+ win NWRA National Championships

    1972: Title IX becomes law; UW women’s club lightweight 8 and quad win NWRA National Championships

    1973: Dick Erickson foregoes the IRA (the Varsity would not return to the IRA for over twenty years) and takes the men’s team to Henley, continuing his emphasis on international competition; UW women’s club lightweight 8 and 4+ win NWRA National Championships under the coaching of Colleen Lynch and Paula Mitchell

    1975: Women’s Rowing becomes a varsity sport at Washington; John Lind named head coach

    1977: Washington men win the Visitors’ Cup and the Grand Challenge Cup (over the British National Team) at Henley; Varsity 8 consensus National Champions; women join the VBC

    1978: Men’s Varsity 8 consensus National Champions; First of six trips to Egypt that Erickson would take his top rowers for the “Festival of Oars” in Cairo, Egypt

    1981: Bob Ernst takes the helm of the Washington Women and begins the first of five NWRA Varsity 8 National Championships in a row (still unprecedented) from 81-85; women’s Varsity 8 and 2V8 win National Titles; undefeated men’s Varsity 8 consensus National Champions; men’s JV8 wins Ladies’ Plate at Henley

    1982: Dominant women’s team wins Varsity 8 and 2V8 NWRA National Championships

    1983: Women’s Varsity 8 wins NWRA National Championship

    1984: Men win Cincinnati Collegiate National Championship Varsity 8; Women’s Varsity 8 wins NWRA National Championship; Bob Ernst coaches Women’s Team USA 8 to Olympic Gold in LA including three UW rowers

    1985: Women’s Varsity 8 wins NWRA National Championship

    1987: The inaugural “Windermere Cup”, featuring the Soviet Union’s top men’s and women’s teams racing the Huskies in front of a large crowd lining the Cut; Women’s Varsity 8 wins US Rowing National Championship; Washington Women sweep the National Championships (V8, 2V8, V4+), first time in history by any team

    1988: Women win US Rowing Varsity 8 National Championship; Bob Ernst replaces Dick Erickson as men’s head coach; Jan Harville takes the helm of the women

    1997: Men’s Varsity 8 National Champions and a sweep of the IRA’s for the 5th time; Women win the inaugural NCAA Varsity 8 race and the NCAA team title – the first NCAA team title in any sport in UW history

    1998: Women win NCAA Team National Championship and Varsity 8 wins NCAA National Championship

    2000: Women win inaugural Henley Prize (now called the Remenham Cup) at Henley for top women’s eights

    2001: Women win NCAA Team Championship and Varsity 8 wins NCAA National Championship

    2002: Women win Varsity 8 and 2V8 NCAA Championships

    2003: Men’s Varsity 8 wins the Ladies’ Plate at Henley in the Centennial Year of the program; Jan Harville retires, Eleanor MacElvaine becomes women’s head coach

    2007: IRA Men’s Varsity 8 National Champions and Team Champions, beginning an unprecedented streak of nine Ten Eyck Team Championships in a row from 2007-2015; Varsity wins the Moscow Race of Champions in Russia over Cambridge, Oxford and Moscow State University

    2008: Bob Ernst switches back to women’s head coach; Michael Callahan elevated to men’s head coach; Women win NCAA Varsity 4 National Championship; team finishes 2nd in the NCAA

    2009: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions and the 6th eights sweep in UW history

    2010: Washington men’s undefeated freshmen win the Temple Cup at Henley

    2011: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions; 2V8, V4+, O4+ also gold

    2012: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions and the first five-event sweep in the history of the IRA: O4+, V4+, F8, 2V8, V8 all gold; 7th eights sweep in UW history; V8 row a 5:21 in the Final, the fastest time in IRA and UW history and 2 seconds off the World Record; Washington Freshmen win the Temple Cup at Henley

    2013: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions and the second five-event sweep in the history of the IRA: O4+, V4+, F8, 2V8, V8 all gold; 8th eights sweep in UW history

    2014: Men are IRA Varsity 8 National Champions; Women’s Varsity 8 invited to the Gallagher Great Race on the Waikato River in New Zealand, and win in an upset victory over Waikato University

    2015: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions and the third five-event sweep in the history of the IRA: O4+, V4+, F8, 2V8, V8 all gold; 9th eights sweep in UW history; only team in history to win the IRA V8 championship 5 years in a row; UW V4+ wins Prince Albert Cup at Henley; Yaz Farooq replaces Bob Ernst as Women’s head coach

    2017: Washington women win the NCAA National Championship in a sweep (V4, 2V8, V8 all gold), unprecedented in the history of the NCAA championships


2018: Women win NCAA 2V8 National Championship; team finishes 2nd in the NCAA; UW men win the Temple Cup at Henley


    2019: Washington women are National Champions and repeat the sweep at the NCAA’s; the UW is the only team to sweep the Women’s National Championships and they have done it 3 times: 1987, 2017, and 2019

    2021: IRA Varsity 8 National Champions and a four-event sweep (the Open 4+ was dropped from the regatta); V4+, 3V8, 2V8, V8 all gold; 10th eights sweep in UW history; Women win NCAA V4+ and 2V8; finish 3rd in NCAA team standings

    2022: UW men win the Visitors’ Cup at Henley


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