Cambridge power to the fore

The 142nd Boat Race: Fastest time for 12 years as Oxford's strong challenge is seen off by the fighting Light Blues
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The Independent Online
AN EXULTANT Cambridge crew yesterday took their fourth Boat Race in a row in the fastest time since their rivals set the course record in 1984. As the Cambridge No7, Rob Waller, said, Oxford presented "a superb challenge" and they were only beaten by two-and-three quarter-lengths, finishing seven seconds behind the Light Blues, who clocked 16min 58sec.

John Carver, the non-rowing winning president, who had watched from the coaching launch, was in no doubt that his crew had done enough to win the race early on: "Boat Race tradition has it that when a crew breaks clear it goes on to win, and when we had the first glimpse of clear water just before Hammersmith there was some serious clenching of fists in the Cambridge launch."

Perhaps the die was cast when the toss of the late John Snagge's golden sovereign landed Cambridge's way and Carver chose the Surrey station - this was a race that would be won and lost in the middle of the course, where the long sweeping bend from the Mile Post to Barnes Bridge favoured the crew on the south side of the river.

For the first few strokes off the start, Cambridge seemed to grab an immediate lead but Oxford, with two more strokes in the first minute, were back on terms almost immediately. By the Black Buoy, two minutes into the race, Cambridge still looked vulnerable, with the blades kicking upas they turned into the head wind along the Corney Reach.

Todd Kristol, the Oxford cox, was warned by the umpire several times as he tried to push Kevin Whyman wide around the Fulham Flats but, as Carver said afterwards, "it was a fair clean race". When the crews straightened out toward the Mile Post the umpire, Mike Sweeney, was warning both crews to keep them apart.

James Ball, the Cambridge stroke, acknowledged that the first stage had proved difficult for the eventual victors: "Oxford were throwing in 10- stroke pushes all the way to Hammersmith, and we were responding by absorbing the pressure without pushing too hard."

As the crews finished the first bend, the advantage was squarely with Cambridge. The river then leaned the Light Blue way and Oxford could do nothing but chase. "We made our crucial move just after Harrods, when we had a 20-stroke push to try to break clear," Ball said.

The tactic worked. Oxford had no reserves to counter the precisely-timed Light Blue show of strength and by St Paul's School, about half a mile further on, Cambridge were still rowing easily and at a higher rate. They had also gained an irrecoverable psychological advantage as Oxford had given up one and a half lengths in two minutes. Todd Kristol, an assertive cox who thrives on grabbing the current and holding it in side-by-side racing, was obliged to cut across and follow in the Light Blue wash.

Ball said that once he passed St Paul's with a length of open water for the first time he knew the long Surrey bend was "our bonus corner". Behind him the crew was moving easily and a threatened loss of rhythm was never glimpsed. The work on the Cambridge style and rhythm had paid off.

The Oxford coaches, Dan Topolski and Penny Chuter, were sorely disappointed, but Robin Williams, the Cambridge coach, took more pleasure from this, his second win. "Last year I felt more like the heir apparent," he said. "This crew is much more my product and I felt for them every stroke of the way." The outcome did not surprise him, and his satisfaction was matched by a relief that his perfect game-plan had been perfectly implemented.