Rowing: Crews divided by fine margins

Half a bag of sugar and the width of a pencil will separate the Oxford and Cambridge crews racing in the 148th University Boat Race on Saturday. Oxford weighed in yesterday just 500g heavier per man, and Cambridge have one-quarter of an inch average more height: such differences are essentially negligible.

Half a bag of sugar and the width of a pencil will separate the Oxford and Cambridge crews racing in the 148th University Boat Race on Saturday. Oxford weighed in yesterday just 500g heavier per man, and Cambridge have one-quarter of an inch average more height: such differences are essentially negligible.

Not even the coxes tip the balance, as for the first time they must reach a minimum 55kg (8st 9lb) in weight on the date of the race, or carry deadweight. It is hoped to make starvation diets a thing of the past, and allow taller coxes with experience and ability to steer the race. A far cry from the days when the coxswains would shovel hops in the Mortlake Brewery for hours to shed their pounds.

Since rowing lore has it that a pound of difference in coxing weight could cost a crew as much as a canvas (one tenth of a length) over the Boat Race distance, this does take the pressure off the coxes. "If you're trying to reduce your weight so heavily, it does affect your mental faculties", said the Oxford steersman, Peter Hackworth. "You become needlessly tetchy, and can't think very clearly."

The traditional umpire's rehearsal was completed early this year, the two coxes steering the course in motor launches under the watchful eye of the umpire, Simon Harris, yesterday morning, as he talked them through the line he wants them to take on Saturday.

With the crews closely matched on paper, differences in steering, technique and form are even more crucial. "We have been making some really good improvements," Rick Dunn, double world champion and stroke of the Cambridge eight, said. "It's obviously the Cambridge rhythm, it's just got a continuous, easy flow to it, and it's coming together more and more each day."

This year they will miss the presence of their long-time mentor Harry Mahon, who died of cancer last May after seeing them beat Oxford following a dramatic restart. "Harry last year was really influential in the crew, he was just so calm and relaxed", said Dunn. "Yes, I think we are missing him, but we have lots of good people around."

Oxford, meanwhile, shuffled seats for a few outings, although they are now back into their original order. "We just changed to keep it all moving," said their president, Ben Burch, "I think the guys are really determined. We've shown it in all our races, we know we can go the distance, and we've done a lot of work at higher ratings."

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY (GB unless stated): Bow: T Stallard President, Jesus, aged 23, 6ft 3.5in, 13st 9.5lb; 2 S Brooks (US) St Edmund's, 23, 6ft 3in, 14st 4lb; 3 J Livingston St Catherine's, 21, 6ft 3in,14st 13lb; 4 S Mayer (Ger) 28, 6ft 3in, 13st 13lb; 5 J West (US) Gonville and Caius, 25, 6ft 9.5in, 15st 6.5lb; 6 L Hirst (Aus) St Edmund's, 29, 6ft 3.5in, 14st 7lb; 7 S Welch (Aus) St Edmund's, 24, 6ft 4in, 14st 2lb; Stroke: R Dunn St Edmund's, 25, 6ft 4in, 15st 1.5lb; Cox: E Griggs Robinson, 20, 5ft 5.5in, 8st 9lb; Average weight (not including cox): 14st 7lb.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY (GB unless stated): Bow: A Dunn Lincoln, 22, 6ft 4in, 14st 6lb; 2 B Dixon Pembroke, 20, 6ft 2in, 14st 6.5lb; 3 G Eggenkamp (Neth) Keble, 26, 6ft 5in, 14st 10.5lb; 4 D Perkin (US) Brasenose, 22, 6ft 7in, 15st; 5 L McGhee (US) Oriel, 22, 6ft 7in, 15st 9.5lb; 6 B Burch President, Pembroke, 22, 6ft 6in, 15st 1lb; 7 R EG Bourne-Taylor Christ Church, 20, 6ft 3in, 13st 11lb; Stroke: M Smith St Catherine's, 20, 6ft 1.5in, 12st 14lb; Cox: P Hackworth Oriel, 19, 5ft 8in, 8st 8.5lb. Average weight (not including cox): 14st 8.125lb.

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