PHOTO AND STORY COURTESY HARVARD ATHLETICS
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Liz O’Leary, The Friends of Radcliffe Rowing Head Coach for Women’s Heavyweight Crew, has announced her retirement, effective at the conclusion of the 2023 spring campaign.
“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach such remarkable student-athletes here at Harvard for 37 years,” O’Leary said. “Their determination and commitment throughout those years has been inspirational. Their ability to combine academic excellence with athletic excellence never ceases to amaze me and is, I believe, the model for what college sports should be. Most importantly, their spirit and enthusiasm on and off the river has been contagious and has created both a positive culture and a competitive program.
“I have also been surrounded by incredible assistant coaches who have shared the same passion and goals. They are integrally responsible for our successes and for building our program. I am so appreciative of the energy they bring every day.”
In her 37th season at the helm of the Black and White, O’Leary has led Radcliffe to the NCAA Championships 18 times, with her 2003 team capturing the national title. In dual-race action, the Black and White has compiled a record of 229-134 during her time in Cambridge.
“Harvard Athletics and Radcliffe Rowing are losing a giant,” said Erin McDermott, The John D. Nichols ’53 Family Director of Athletics. “Liz O’Leary has coached crews to championships and valiant performances over a remarkable tenure. However, her greatest achievement is as a mentor and leader as she has impacted countless women in transformational ways. Liz’s presence will always be part of Weld Boathouse through the legacy she leaves.”
O’Leary’s tenure at Harvard began in 1986, and her impact was immediately felt as the Black and White captured the 1987 Eastern Sprints championship, which was the first of two titles in a three-year span. Radcliffe later went on to win five more Eastern Sprints crowns, including four straight from 2015-18.
When the NCAA played host to its first national championship in 1997, Radcliffe qualified for it, winning the petite final to finish in seventh place. The appearance laid the foundation for what was to come in 2003, when Radcliffe won the varsity eight race and NCAA team championship. For her efforts, Liz O’Leary was named the 2003 CRCA Division I Coach of the Year.
Radcliffe logged two more top-10 performances in the subsequent seasons, finishing in ninth place in 2004 and claiming the bronze medal in 2005. The Black and White continued to be a mainstay at nationals, earning 17 berths over the course of the next 19 seasons (1997-2015). During that time, the 2012 campaign stands as memorable after Radcliffe won the inaugural Ivy League Championship Regatta, with the team later finishing in 13th place at NCAAs.
The Black and White, which last appeared at the NCAA Championships in 2019, has also produced international-level talent with O’Leary at the helm. Fourteen Radcliffe athletes competed on the U.S. National Team during her tenure at Weld Boathouse.
A United States Olympic Team rower herself in 1976 and 1980, O’Leary coached the 1988 U.S. Olympic team as well as seven World Championship teams from 1985-97. During her time at Harvard, the head coach position became endowed in June 2019, when the title was renamed The Friends of Radcliffe Rowing Head Coach for Women’s Heavyweight Crew. It marked the 24th endowed head coach position at Harvard.
“Our successes on the racecourse over the years have been tremendously rewarding,” O’Leary said. “I am so very grateful for the support from our athletic department, the Harvard Varsity Club and the Friends of Harvard-Radcliffe Rowing. From all angles, I appreciate the great leadership, generous support, and loyal alumnae. Thank you!”