Oxford's anger ends years in wilderness

The Boat Race: Dark Blues overcome favourites to halt run of seven successive defeats in gripping struggle

At last when the water was at its wildest, after three and a half miles of the 146th Boat Race, Oxford saw the end of their seven years in the wilderness and gathered their depleted resources for a last push behind their exemplary stroke, Alex Reid. It had been a cracking race from the first stroke and apart from a short patch after three minutes when Cambridge had used the advantage of the Surrey station, and took a three-quarter length lead, the crews were rowing at almost the same rate of strokes to the minute and locked side by side all the way.

The conditions at the start were benign with the southerly breeze speeding up the incoming tide. The umpire, Simon Harris, was meticulous in getting the crews straight and dropped the flag some minutes late, but he unleashed years of repressed anger in the Dark Blue boat and there was an edge to their rowing from the first stroke. The technical weaknesses which had been visible in training did not appear. Kajsa McLaren, the Oxford cox, crowded across to her opposition and within the first seconds Harris was warning them to move back. Cambridge were working perhaps the more smoothly of the two but never looked complacent or ready to take it for granted as they slipped into a lead of half a length and drove to use their station advantage before the bend turned in Oxford's favour.

Critical, as they came to Fulham flats, was the way that McLaren, held her course to push wide and hold the stream. As she turned her crew to towards the Mile Post they had the better stream and the tighter course and pulled back the deficit in 30 seconds to come level. By the Mile Post, Oxford were ahead but McLaren was still squeezing the Light Blues back in preparation for the long Hammersmith bend when they would have the outside lane.

After shooting the Bridge, Cambridge pulled back in front by a small margin, but as they straightened along Chiswick Eyot where the river was whipped up into white-topped waves Oxford were able to lean back into the wind and use their weight advantage of 11lb per man and drag themselves back to parity. Although they were out in the rougher water their rhythm held well and the longer it went on thebetter the middle pair of Toby Ayer and Dan Snow were backing the relentless aggression of the stroke, Reid, and his No 7 man, the Norwegian Eirik Lilledahl.

The long straight ends at the crossing and when the bend turned back in Oxford's favour Cambridge must have been hurt to find themselves exactly level at the Crabtree Steps. Here McLaren called for another "10 and 10" and, with Reid leading by example, the crew dug in and pulled away rapidly as they moved, still in horrendously rough water, to the Band Stand. Safe now with a length of open water, Reid gave his crew the taste of blood they craved by driving home the advantage andincreasing the lead all the way to the line.

"Oxford needed this victory and we got it. It feels great," said McLaren.

"We knew that when we were still level and they hadn't made enough up on their bend, we knew at that point we were in a strong position."

The happiest winner was probably the Oxford president, Nicholas Robinson, who was on the losing side last year.

"This is the thing I've been waiting for for four years now. It's happened. It's incredible," Robinson said.

"I've never been in race like it. There were times when I thought Cambridge was just going to run away from us."

The Oxford jubilation was complete when they learned that Isis, their reserves, had won by an even bigger margin and given them both wins for the first time since 1989. A year hence the crews will look different with those who areabsent for Olympic training back in the fold, but it is doubtful that they would be able to produce a better race in the kind of conditions that prevailed on Saturday.

146th BOAT RACE (Thames): Oxford bt Cambridge by three lengths in 18min 4sec. Cambridge lead series 76-69.

ISIS/GOLDIE RACE (Thames): Isis (Oxford) bt Goldie (Cambridge) by five lengths in 17min 36.6sec.

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