Rowing / Boat Race: All rhythm and Light Blues: Hugh Matheson sees Cambridge claim an impressive victory to make it two in a row

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The Independent Online
CAMBRIDGE won yesterday's Boat Race and made it two in a row for the first time since 1973. Oxford won the toss and chose the Middlesex station with the declared intention of grabbing an early lead and using the first bend to push Cambridge wide, thus provoking disarray and loss of rhythm. It was a questionable tactic against a crew renowned for their well-drilled and easy style.

The ploy worked for only a few strokes before Cambridge began to nose in front, and within two minutes the Light Blues had a full length's lead. Although the race was a procession, and the result was never in doubt, there was still plenty of interest. Oxford had suffered from a succession of mishaps, losing Adam Pearson, who had been selected for the key No 5 seat, with three weeks to go, and then disposing of their professional coaches, Richard Tinkler and Tim Bramfitt, only 10 days before the race.

Man for man, the gap between the squads was less than the apparent disparity in their collection of world and Olympic honours would suggest. From the Lorgen brothers right through to the pair of 14st men in the bows, Oxford were the physiological equals of the Cambridge eight.

The final margin of 20 seconds looked modest after Cambridge found themselves 16 seconds up at the half-way stage. Oxford prevented the expected rout by a very brave fightback when it was clear that they would never get near enough to challenge for the lead. Elizabeth Chick, the cox, in her second Boat Race, proved the key. She steered an almost perfect course, and as the tide slackened she began to cut the corners, keeping in touch with the Light Blues, who were steered by Martin Haycock. He was chosen in preference to two other contenders only three weeks ago precisely because he was supposed to know the Tideway better.

Another key figure was Kingsley Poole, the Oxford president. He was perhaps a reluctant stroke man, with Joe Michels, the winning stroke in 1992, Harry Macmillan and Robert Clegg all in the top eight. However when no other order seemed to gel, Michels took over.

Although there was little hope of an upset, he drove the crew on and did not let up over the second half of the course. But Cambridge then threw in every ounce of energy they possessed. 'It was a bitch of a race. We never cruised, and came in at 40 (strokes per minute),' Richard Phelps, the Light Blues' No 4, said.

Oxford's real deficiencies lay in the way they rowed and how their boat was rigged. It is an elementary requirement that every man should move his blade through the same arc. When Michels moved from the bow seat to No 3 eight days before the race, his feet were set too far away so that he had to reach further than the others and he finished his stroke sooner. Mechanically less efficient, this also meant he had to twist his lower back more at the start of the stroke, which reduced his power and broke up an already fragile rhythm.

Although the crews are these days selected by largely objective physiological data, the placing of the men in a boat and the way they are taught to move the oar through the cycle is a matter of feel. Both camps will have to find new teams to prepare them next year and the Oxford management must select coaches - possibly including the discarded Tinkler - and back them if they are not to let losing turn into a habit.

Munster von 1882 retained their title in the Head of the River Race, which was rowed over the same course as the Boat Race, but in the opposite direction. The team, who provided six of the German national crew that won the world championships last year, were two seconds in front of Leander Club, whose team included Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)

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