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?
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Sport
Harry Kane
premier leagueLive minute-by-minute coverage
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
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

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin