At the Ivy League Swimming and Diving Championships March 7–9, the Princeton and Harvard men will have a chance to break a remarkable deadlock. The two schools have dominated the meet for the last 40 years, winning every championship and splitting them evenly — 20 for the Tigers, 20 for the Crimson.
The showdown actually is the second historic tiebreaker this season. With a win at the HYP meet in early February, Harvard nudged ahead of Princeton in regular-season meetings, taking a 38–37 lead in a series that began in 1935. Tiger coach Rob Orr says that while head-to-head results are a “good barometer,” plenty of teams have won the Ivies after losing in the regular season.
The Princeton-Harvard rivalry is both hotly contested and closely watched. Princeton alumni contributing to an online forum of self-described “swim nerds” track the times of athletes on both teams. Doug Lennox ’74, a former butterflyer and father of All-American Doug Jr. ’09, says that he created a spreadsheet to forecast the 2013 Ivy meet — 11 months before the event. (His initial projection had the Tigers winning “with some breathing room.”)
As the names on Princeton’s roster come and go, there has been one constant: Orr, the irreverent and unpredictable coach, now in his 34th season and aiming for a fifth consecutive Ivy title. Not much has changed, he insists, noting — lovingly — that his teams are stocked with the “same idiots” as in years past. He continues to regale recruits with “the Rob Orr A.S.S. principle,” a mnemonic to help them set their priorities: academics, swimming, and social life, in that order.
Kaspar Raigla ’13, an All-Ivy swimmer in each of the last three seasons, admits that when he arrived at Princeton, he didn’t know quite what to make of Orr. Raigla grew up in Estonia, training with a coach who’d been schooled in the rigid Soviet system. Orr, on the other hand, has been known to toss visitors in the pool during practice and celebrate Halloween by having his team bob for apples.
But after four years on the team, Raigla values Orr’s trust and flexibility and sees him as a father figure — the kind of parent who never will say he’s angry but does not hesitate to tell you when he’s disappointed. “You want to make him proud,” Raigla says.
No one takes winning more seriously than Orr, who has posted the results from the last 33 years of meetings with Harvard on the wall of a long hallway under the bleachers at DeNunzio Pool. But he also finds satisfaction in other measures, including his roster’s retention rate. Fewer than half of Princeton’s 45 swimmers and divers will have a chance to compete in the Ivy meet, but nearly all stay on board for five grueling months of training.
Orr’s secret? “I think we just have a good time,” he says. “At least I know I do.”
Brett Tomlinson is PAW’s digital editor and writes frequently about sports.