Rowing: All change for Light Blues

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The Independent Online
Cambridge's progress towards a possible fifth successive victory in the Boat Race is suddenly going far from smoothly. With only two days to go before taking their place on the stake boat alongside the Dark Blues, Cambridge were playing musical chairs.

Being beaten in two short rows by their reserves, Goldie, on Wednesday was not quite what they wanted at this stage of their preparations, but the coaches shunned the normal solution to such problems of promoting challengers from the reserves. Instead there was a light blue version of the Twisterthon as the crew order was changed five times in yesterday morning's session, with oarsmen climbing up and down the boat over each other's shoulders. The cox, Kevin Whyman, said: "Everybody changed seats except, worse luck, me."

The key to the Cambridge revival of the past four years has been the rhythm with which they row, which is taught from the moment the students arrive right through to the race. When things go awry the coaches do not assume the wrong men have been selected. They assume the rhythm is being disrupted and seek out a more effective seating order.

Alex Story, the 16st British international, was moved to No 7, immediately behind the stroke man, James Ball, and held his place for the afternoon session. Robin Williams, the Light Blue chief coach, said with a wry smile: "It keeps the process of evolution going, rather than stagnation." The president, Ethan Ayer, has moved from three to take Story's place at No 5.

Harry Mahon, the highly distinguished New Zealander who has been guru to the Cambridge revival, said: "This is a good Goldie crew, as they have been since I came on the scene in '93. These are young guys, just learning to row, who will be a real asset to Cambridge or anyone else." But to be fair to their seniors the crews had different purposes. The Blue Boat was trying to find a rhythm to last four miles after a practice start, while as the Oxford coach Daniel Topolski put it: "Goldie will have been banging along trying to score a point."

Ball has been picked for the stroke seat precisely because he is thought of as the best source of rhythm the Light Blues have had for some years. But he stopped rowing after the last Boat Race and did not declare himself until after the Trial VIII's race in December. As a natural athlete with years of training behind him, he took little time to bring his test scores up to scratch but he may not yet be able to impose himself on the crew.

There was no audible response from the Oxford camp, "We're doing what we're doing and don't think it's very significant." The bookies took a pragmatic view, moving the crews to joint favourites at 5-6 on, in the two-horse race.

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