Rowing: Oxford's refusal to buckle brings reward

Who said the Boat Race is a procession? Capping even the dramatic restart of 2001, this year's Varsity showdown delivered the most exciting contest for two decades, and an utterly gripping race. The times barely begin to tell the story – although Cambridge led at every marker, they never broke clear. The battle was balanced on a knife-edge the entire way, before Oxford rowed Cambridge down in the last half-minute, winning by two seconds: a mere 40-feet margin at the end of 4
1/
2 long miles.

Who said the Boat Race is a procession? Capping even the dramatic restart of 2001, this year's Varsity showdown delivered the most exciting contest for two decades, and an utterly gripping race. The times barely begin to tell the story – although Cambridge led at every marker, they never broke clear. The battle was balanced on a knife-edge the entire way, before Oxford rowed Cambridge down in the last half-minute, winning by two seconds: a mere 40-feet margin at the end of 4 1/ 2 long miles.

Victory, for Oxford, was a combination of training, planning, bloody-minded persistence, and luck, although it could hardly be called a perfect race. Time after time one crew gained a strategic edge, but could not capitalise, and it was not until the 14th minute that a decisive outcome looked possible.

The start, on wildly swinging stakeboats, caught Cambridge about to recorrect alignment, and although they recovered fast, Oxford took four seats within 20 seconds. Although Oxford should now have killed off the Cambridge challenge completely, they lost rhythm. The Light Blues recovered poise and speed, and, helped by excellent steering, rowed themselves back into a three-seat lead by the Milepost. They then let Oxford sit half a length down, instead of breaking clear. Around the long Hammersmith bend it should have been the Dark Blues' turn once again, but their pushes suffered as cox Peter Hackworth was forced to steer repeatedly and slightly off-stream by continuous umpire's warnings.

Ten minutes in, Cambridge had survived the famous Surrey bend, still held a short lead, and now the river turned in their favour. Surely this was their chance to stick the knife in? But four-man Sebastian Mayer had paid too high a price: as he lapsed into an exhausted daze, blade flailing, Cambridge were unable to change gear. With both eights utterly exhausted, it became a battle of wills. Oxford's Dan Perkins had been advised by coach Mick McKay "if all else fails, pull harder". As Perkins and Oxford did exactly that, they "asked the question", and Cambridge had no answer.

"When you're doing these races, you're only trying to break one guy," said the Oxford chief coach Sean Bowden. "It's eight against one, and the first guy that breaks in there, you're on him." Cambridge's coach, Robin Williams, recognised the tactics. "If you can push someone over the limit, that's what you try and do." Cambridge, winning the toss, chose Middlesex to give themselves the benefit of the final corner, but they cannot have imagined how much they would need it.

The rest made heroic history. Fifty years ago, Oxford rowed from behind around the final Mortlake bend, snatching victory by a canvas. Watching the grainy video the night before, the 2002 seven-man Robin Bourne-Taylor had told his crew, "I'd back myself to do that." As Oxford went through Barnes Bridge half a second down, President Ben Burch shouted "We're going to win this." With barely 20 strokes to go, Oxford were level, and storming through a Cambridge crew unable to match their sprint.

Oxford are demons for detail: they use the OmegaWave brain wave system to optimise each athlete's training, and this year copied the British Olympic eight, fixing Aerostripz tape down the blade shafts to decrease air resistance. The change improved their paddling speed by 1-2sec per 500m, though probably had less effect in racing. But none of that would have counted without their own determination. The Boat Race is about who can survive on the day. On Saturday, Oxford had the will to win, making it a triumphant seven-nil sweep for Dark Blue boats.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee