Rowing: Oxford hope skill counters rivals' size

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The Independent Online

The formal proceedings of Sunday's 150th Boat Race began yesterday with the crews weighing in at the Hurlingham Club. As the advantage attributed to the heaviest crew recedes into statistical history, this ceremony has become merely a ritual. Just as Saturday is no longer Boat Race Day and BBC Television's association with the race terminates in favour of ITV next Monday, so it is no longer a safe bet that the heavier crew will win.

The formal proceedings of Sunday's 150th Boat Race began yesterday with the crews weighing in at the Hurlingham Club. As the advantage attributed to the heaviest crew recedes into statistical history, this ceremony has become merely a ritual. Just as Saturday is no longer Boat Race Day and BBC Television's association with the race terminates in favour of ITV next Monday, so it is no longer a safe bet that the heavier crew will win.

The lightest wins as often as not these days. The best recent example was last year when Oxford gave away more than a stone a man and won by a foot. Was lack of weight an advantage? Only the river gods know, but they have certainly hedged their bets in the last 10 years.

Cambridge weighed in as heaviest by one pound per man at an average of 14st 2.5lbs. They are also taller, the president, Wayne Pommen, being the shortest at 6ft 1in. Four of his men are 6ft 5in and one is 6ft 6in. Oxford are also six-footers to a man, having the shortest man in the race in Henry Morris at 6ft and the tallest in Dave Livingston at 6ft 7in.

There is little to choose between them when it comes to experience either. Each has three Blues - Basil Dixon, Livingston and Morris for Oxford, and Kris Coventry, Hugo Mallinson and Seb Mayer for Cambridge. Oxford's cox, Acer Nethercott, is also a veteran of 2003, while Pommen rowed in last year's Cambridge boat until two days before the race when he fractured his wrist in a collision with the harbour master's launch. The rest of the Cambridge boat were on board the winning Goldie boat last year, so there is strength in depth.

Oxford have picked up some good recruits to bolster their returnees, including Joel Scrogin from Brown University, Andrew Stubbs from Newcastle University and Peter Reed, an oarsman with a naval bearing from the University of the West of England. They also have a tenacious stroke by the name of Colin Smith, a 20-year-old with a track record of success in junior, under-23, Commonwealth and Henley events.

The Thames was benign for outings yesterday. The Oxford coach, Sean Bowden, bade his bow four and then his stern four to move up and down the slide without holding their oars, and then to row a piece in which every second stroke is an "air shot", the blade making no contact with the water. Its purpose is to expose cracks in the togetherness of the stroke.

Moving an eight efficiently requires more than putting blades in and out of the water together. They must also co-ordinate their body movement on the slide with their oar movement, and move their bodies together. If they do not, the erratic movement of bodies aft before taking the next stroke can cause the boat to lose a lot of run. Bowden's exercises revealed discrepancies in body movement and ironed them out.

BOAT RACE CREWS

OXFORD: C Kennelly (Univ of Cal Berkeley, US, and Oriel) 13st 7.5lb; B Dixon* (Bedford and Pembroke) 14:02; A Stubbs (Newcastle Univ and Hertford) 14:12; J Scrogin (Brown Univ, US, and Brasenose) 15:01; P Reed (Univ of West of England and Wolfson) 15:7.5; D Livingston* (Hampton and Christ Church) 14:06; H Morris* (Radley and Magdalene) 13:05; C Smith (Prince Edward Sch, Zim, and St Catherine's)12:04; Cox: A Nethercott* (Mark Hall Comp and Univ) 8:0.9.

Average: 14st 1.5lbs

CAMBRIDGE:C Le Neve Foster (RGS Guildford and St Catharine's) 13:13; K Coventry* (Univ of Melbourne, Aus, and Queen's) 14:01; H Mallinson* (Harvard, US, and St Catherine's) 14:12; S Mayer* (Albert-Ludwigs Univ, Ger, and Caius) 13:9.5; A Shannon (Robert Gordon Univ and St Edmund's) 14:2.5; S Buschbacher (Harvard, US, and St Catherine's) 15:07; W Pommen (Harvard, US, and Pembroke) 13; N Kirk (Yale, US, and St Edmund's) 14:03; Cox: K Richardson (Bedford Modern and Peterhouse) 8:9.5.

Average: 14st 2.5lbs *denotes Blue

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