Boat Race: Size matters as mighty Oxford leave Light Blues in their wake

Oxford did what they had to do to prove the adage that a good big'un beats a good little'un by executing a blistering start in yesterday's Boat Race. The heavier crew by a stone and a half found a base rhythm in the first few strokes which so often eluded them in practise, and they did not let go of it for four and a quarter miles.

Oxford did what they had to do to prove the adage that a good big'un beats a good little'un by executing a blistering start in yesterday's Boat Race. The heavier crew by a stone and a half found a base rhythm in the first few strokes which so often eluded them in practise, and they did not let go of it for four and a quarter miles.

"It was a classic match race, which is just what the Boat Race ought to be," said Alan Inns of the Cambridge coaching team. On a cold day in a light easterly wind, Oxford set the third fastest time of 16 minutes 42 seconds.

Cambridge tempted fate the night before by naming their boat "Robin Williams" after the coach who leaves them after 11 years. They chose the Middlesex station when they won the toss, a gamble which gave them the inside of the first and last bends. After five minutes trying to get straight, the jitters were setting in. "Thoughts were running a mile a minute," said Oxford's No 7 Jason Flickinger, and his opposite number Tom James fluffed the first stroke. He made a brilliant recovery, however, and the error would not have affected the result.

Oxford were half a length ahead at the end of the Putney boathouses before Cambridge came back at them as the bend took hold, but Oxford arrived at the Mile mark half a second ahead. This was the first crunch point. The Dark Blues' cox, Acer Nethercott, was here on the same station a year ago, where a big clash unseated his bow man. This time nobody made a mistake. He was warned once by the umpire Boris Rankov after the first minute and once after the mile opposite the Crab Tree just when he had invoked an unprintable quotation from Pulp Fiction, a trigger to which his crew responded with a 20-stroke push that took them half a length ahead again.

Oxford increased this to a length at the Hammersmith Bridge with the bend now turning in their favour. Nethercott, despite three further warnings, steered an immaculate course, pushing Cambridge wide round the Surrey bend to Chiswick Eyot, the stretch of the course where the Light Blues had demolished the German national eight two weeks earlier on the outside. Oxford kept their tales up, no question, and were pounding along at a speed that matched the Cambridge crew.

At Chiswick Steps the gap between them was not much over a length, butfrom here Nethercott could go where he liked and took an economical course to the finish, wide enough not to trouble the umpire should Cambridge manage a final charge.

Barney Williams, the Canadian Olympic medallist in the No 2 seat said, "Underneath Hammersmith Bridge we took our advantage. I give them fullcredit - after a start like that they could have been off their toes, but they charged back at us. But I didn't feel that their rhythm was ever able to get established the way they wanted. They were not able to sit back and think 'smooth comfortable precision'."

This was confirmed by Bernd Heidicker, the Cambridge stroke, who said: "We were going hard all the way, so for Oxford to win by two lengths shows just what a good crew they have. They forced us to attack them and we were always under pressure."

The Oxford coach Sean Bowden said: "We always knew we had to have a good row, and they had a stormer. Others have to rise to the challenge."

Robin Williams, the Cambridge coach who has won seven out of his 11 boat races, leaves to take charge of the Great Britain lightweights with mixed feelings. "The base speed of the two crews was similar," he said, "but Oxford were extremely effective with their power on pushes. I think it's a great event, a fantastic spectacle; its profile is increasing every year because people understand more of what the crews have put into it. I think it's the best state it's ever been in."

His successor, Duncan Holland, who watched the race from a launch for the first time, has been handed a gauntlet. "It's a brutal course, a difficult piece of water. It's really us against them. The challenge has been plainly laid out. We must lift ourselves to their standard."

Holland may have a better start to the 152nd Boat Race than Oxford because most of the Cambridge crew will be in residence next year, and there was a Light Blue consolation prize when their reserve crew Goldie beat Isis by a massive five lengths in a record time of 16min 48sec. Bowden, on the other hand will lose most of his victorious crew, but he must be hoping that the inspirational Barney Williams will be able to extend his law studies for another year.

The score now stands at Cambridge 78, Oxford 72, with one dead heat. There was comfort for Cambridge when their women's crew beat Oxford by two and a third lengths at Henley. They were lighter as well as faster, and also stroked by a German, Mathilde Pauls. Oxford swept the rest, including the women's reserves and the men's and women's lightweights.

Race details

Oxford beat Cambridge by 2 lengths, 16 min 42 secs Goldie beat Isis by 5 lengths, 16 mins 48 secs (record). Boat Race times (Oxford first): Mile 3:40; 3:40.5 Hammersmith Bridge 6:35; 6:37 Chiswick Steps 10:17; 10:20 Barnes Bridge 13:51; 13:57 Finish 16:42; 16:48.

Oxford: R Bourne-Taylor (Abingdon and Christ Church); B Williams (Univ of Victoria, Canada, and Jesus); P Reed (Univ of West of England and Oriel); J von Maltzahn (Oxford Brookes and Kellogg); Chris Liwski (Syracuse Univ, US, and St Catherine's); M Blomquist (Harvard, US, and St Peter's); J Flickinger (Princeton, US, and Keble); A Triggs Hodge (stroke, North Staffs Univ and St Catherine's); A Nethercott (cox, Mark Hall Broxbourne and Univ). Average weight: 15st 6.8lb.

Cambridge: L Walton (Univ of California Berkeley, US, and St Edmund's); T Edwards (Univ of Tasmania and Caius); H Adams (Univ Coll London and St Edmund's); S Buschbacher (Harvard, US, and St Catharine's); S Schulte (Ruhr Univ, Germany, and Caius); M Kleinz (Justus Liebig Univ, Germany, and Caius); T James (King's Chester and Trinity Hall); B Heidicker (stroke, Ruhr Univ, Germany, and Hughes Hall); P Rudge (Durham Univ and Hughes Hall). Average weight: 13st 13.1lb.

Henley Boat Races (2,000 metres) Cambridge Women bt Oxford Women by 2 1/ 3 lengths, 6min 27sec; Osiris beat Blondie by 1 3/ 4 lengths, 6:41; Oxford lightweights beat Cambridge lightweights, 1/ 2 length, 6:55; Oxford men lightweights beat Cambridge men lightweights, 3 lengths, 5:51; Nephthys beat Granta 4 1/ 4 lengths, 6:07

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