James Lawton: Cox's sour remarks show times change

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There was a time not so long ago - well, it is probably longer than one likes to think - when the boat house at Mortlake provided a scene that seemed to capture some of the greatest glories of our national life.

There, you saw the prone bodies of tough, pink-skinned, heroic young Englishmen. When they had recovered sufficiently from going to the very edge of their physical and psychological powers, they would talk to you in clipped, impressive tones about the imperative of dredging everything you had in the effort for victory.

If you pressed them, they might say there was a certain amount of moral crisis around the time the Harrods warehouse flashed by at the edge of their blurred vision. They would tell you about the currents and the strategy and if it should have happened that they had lost, that in the lung-tearing climax of their great effort the guys in another shade of blue had found something extra, they would give due tribute.

For a sporting parallel only the epic would do. Perhaps the bike racers of the Tour de France were a fair comparison, and the quote of the fine Dutch rider Hennie Kuipar tended to come to mind. He reported that up in the Pyrenees the going was so hard, you stretched yourself to such limits, "the snow turned black".

However, times change and for still another reminder of this we had to look no further than the reaction of the beaten Oxford cox Acer Nethercott, who said: "I feel robbed. If you lose a close one and you have given it your all you can look the other team in the eye and say, 'well done, you were better than us.' It's not just that we lost it on a foul, it's that we were so clearly faster." Nethercott's last point, it was reported, was not confirmed at the time of the controversial clash of oars.

That, however, is not really the point. What is most alarming is the meaning of what Nethercott was saying in the Mortlake boat house. It was "We wuz robbed." The soul of old England surely recoils.

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