Rowing: Brains not brawn key to Boat Race

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Last year Oxford, with the heaviest crew in Boat Race history, had an average weight of 15st 6lb per man, and used their extra muscle power to forge a two-length victory. This year the crews are physically almost identical, and Sunday's race is likely to come down to technique and tactics.

Cambridge's Thorsten Engelmann is the heaviest oarsman in the race at 16st 7lb, and Oxford's Colin Smith the lightest at 12st 12lb. Cambridge are slightly heavier overall with an average weight per man (excluding the cox) of 14st 7lb 9oz, nine ounces more per man than Oxford.

So, two well-matched crews are preparing to peak near the top of the tide on Sunday just when all forecasters predict a strong west wind. This will give the Blues a bumpy ride, known as "sinking conditions" in Boat Race parlance. Cambridge had some help from the Port of London Authority Driftwood Fleet yesterday which kicked up impressive turbulence on the reach to Hammersmith just as the Blue Boat and the reserve crew, Goldie, set off on a three-minute bruiser.

Goldie, a safe bet to beat Isis on Sunday, clung to the Blues and forced them wide around the Hammersmith bend. Goldie were little more than two seats behind when they stopped.

Neither Oxford nor Cambridge has an oarsman under 6ft 1in. Both crews are multinational and multilingual and packed with international experience; most are graduate students; all are unpaid; and both are "among the brightest and the fittest on the planet", as the announcer at the weigh-in put it yesterday.

The only major statistical difference is that Oxford have only two oarsmen who have competed in the race before - Colin Smith and president Barney Williams - while Cambridge have five, plus last year's cox.

Experience counts for quite a bit in this unique match race, but it does not count for everything. Williams, the Canadian who pushed Sir Matt Pinsent's crew to the limits at the Athens Olympics two years ago, is a street fighter, and this year he has another solid Canadian from his Olympic crew, Jake Wetzel, sitting in the No 7 seat. Bastien Ripoll, the Oxford stroke, is the first Frenchman to wear the dark blue, and now says he understands what the other guys are talking about.

Cambridge's Germans, Sebastian Thormann, Thorsten Engelmann and Sebastian Schulte in the Nos 3, 4 and 5 seats - known as the Berlin Wall - have made an impression and the 6ft 8in British Olympic champion, Kieran West, in the No 6 seat, completes a formidable engine room.

With the stroke Kip McDaniel from Canada, bowman Luke Walton from the United States, president Tom Edwards from Tasmania, chief coach Duncan Holland from New Zealand and his assistant Tim McLaren from Australia, the mix is rich.

Heavyweights of the Tideway: Boat Race crews


Luke Walton 13st 1lb 0oz

Thomas Edwards 13st 4lb 8oz

Sebastian Thormann 14st 11lb 11 oz

Thorsten Engelmann 16st 7lb 1oz

Sebastian Schulte 15st 7lb 6oz

Kieran West 16st 0lb 14oz

Tom James 13st 7lb 2oz

Kristopher McDaniel 13st 7lb 2oz

Peter Rudge (cox) 8st 8lb 13oz

Total (excluding cox) 116st 4lb 12oz


Robin Ejsmond-Frey 14st 4lb 10oz

Colin Smith 12st 12lb 12oz

Tom Parker 14st 5lb 1oz

Paul Daniels 14st 7lb 11oz

James Schroeder 15st 11lb 5oz

Barney Williams 14st 7lb 11oz

Jacob Wetzel 15st 7lb 6oz

Bastien Ripoll 13st 8lb 15oz

Sebastian Pearce (cox) 8st 6lb 10oz

Total (excluding cox) 115st 13lb 14oz