Boat Race: Protest, broken oar and collapse ruin contest
Event had to be restarted after demo – and then the drama really began
Emily Dugan is Social Affairs Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Her first book, 'Finding Home: Real Stories of Migrant Britain', is published by Icon Books on 2 July
Sunday 08 April 2012
A swimmer in the water, a snapped oar and a collapsed rower combined to make yesterday's Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race the most incident-packed in the contest's history. Cambridge eventually won the 158th race after it had to be restarted halfway through because a protester swam between the boats. A few seconds after the boats set off again, Oxford snapped an oar after steering too close to the opposition.
The race concluded with a decisive win for Cambridge, but just as it seemed all the drama was over, one Oxford rower had to be pulled from the boat unconscious. Alex Woods, 27, was taken to hospital and was in a stable condition last night. Cambridge celebrations were muted and there was no podium presentation.
The swimmer who interrupted the race was an anti-elitism campaigner called Trenton Oldfield from east London. In a blog post yesterday, titled "Elitism leads to tyranny", he said he was swimming into the boats as an "act of civil disobedience".
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said the swimmer was arrested for a public order offence and was being held in custody in a west London police station.
In his blog, which in places was nonsensical, Mr Oldfield said: "I am swimming into the boats in the hope I can stop them from completing the race and proposing the return of surprise tactics." He called the boat race a "pseudo competition" that was "an inconsequential backdrop for these elite educational institutions to demonstrate themselves, reboot their shared culture together in the public realm."
The race umpire, John Garrett, said that it was former Olympian Matthew Pinsent who first spotted Mr Oldfield: "[Pinsent] said 'There's something in the water'. We thought it was debris, then we realised it was a swimmer. It was clear he was waiting for the boats so I had to stop the race."
Karl Hudspith, president of the Oxford University Boat Club, tweeted: "To Trenton Oldfiled [sic]; my team went through seven months of hell, this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us." He later posted: "Just saw Alex in the hospital... Still clutching his torn blue boat shirt. Real hero, just pushed too hard."
The last time the annual race had to be restarted was in 2001, when the boats collided at Putney. Cambridge now lead by 81 wins to 76.
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