Photoshoot: The Boat Race - Tall order for Oxford in land of Light Blue giants

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The Independent Online
THE Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race will be a test of power versus glory. The power rests undoubtedly with Cambridge and the glory will be Oxford's if they can pull off victory against the greatest weight disparity in Boat Race history.

The Cambridge crew this year is another in the five-year sequence of winners that is founded on a large pool of long-limbed athletes, many of them trained on the premises but underpinned by some of the best and brightest foreign talent with the savings to pay the fees demanded for a postgraduate degree. This year, the Light Blue colours are borne by the tallest selection ever and the concrete underpinning comes from a German stern pairing of world champions, Marc Weber and Stefan Forster.

Oxford are quite simply not as strong or as distinguished in past achievement as Cambridge but have, through the leadership of their young president, Andrew Lindsay, and the coaching of Sean Bowden and Renee Mijnders, who led the Dutch to Olympic triumph in Atlanta, produced a crew with a wonderful efficiency of movement and natural rhythm. It is a crew that will have to be close up and in the race at half-way to stand a chance. If they are swept away off the start the chance of recovery is slight, because the Light Blues will relax and recover and use their superior power in bursts to stay ahead.

Searching for a weakness in the Cambridge line-up is a forlorn task. The stern pair took a long time to be agreed by the coaches, but now that it is in place it seems the only solution. Forster's great strength and attack are used to transmit an inexorable drive down the boat while Weber is using his greater fluency and understanding of the Cambridge style to give the crew time on the recovery between strokes. Behind them, Alex Story and Toby Wallace are two younger Brits with abundant natural talent. Story came through the British junior system after starting as a teenager in France before reaching the British national eight for the past three years. Wallace is a 6ft 7in, 15 stone natural who learned to row at Cambridge.

The quality does not drop off in the bows. Graham Smith, at bow, stroked the British Olympic eight in Atlanta and at 14st 7lb is the heaviest bowman ever. In front of him Jonathan Bull and Paul Cunningham are two more home- grown Light Blues blessed with size and strength who blossomed in last year's Goldie boat which was arguably the faster of the two Cambridge winners on the day.

The cox, Alistair Potts, who won the seat only at the last minute from Suzie Ellisan, is an Olympic cox with 10 years' experience on the Tideway. He surprised both the umpire and the Oxford cox, Alex Greaney, with an eccentric course in Thursday's rehearsal, and a similar line in the race would lose it. But he may have been bluffing.

Oxford have been characterised throughout as a crew to win it in a normal year and on any measure of student rowing in the world are superb. But the 13lb a man weight disadvantage is a lot to make up. Nick Robinson at stroke is smoothly rhythmic and sends a flow right down the boat which allows the heavier guns behind him to let the boat run and do some of the work for them.

Critical has been the positioning of Paul Berger, a 25-year-old American, at seven. Four square behind Lindsay are Ed Coode, a world bronze medallist in the coxed four last year, Henrik Nilsson and Jurgen Hecht, who, in their late twenties, are tough campaigners with precise knowledge of how to sell themselves dearly over the whole course; and in front of them the tall bow pair are well levered for the fluid style. But while they look more graceful throughout and possibly quicker at the start it may be a dark day for the Dark Blues.