Rowing / Boat Race: Germans to set pace for Cambridge: After a wholesale crew review, Oxford have changed their coach for today's contest. Hugh Matheson reports on a power struggle

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The Independent Online
VORSPRUNG durch technik would be a better motto for the Cambridge Boat Race crew this year than the more dreamy Hinc luchem et pocula sacra (Hence the light and these sacred streams). The late German Democratic Republic chose rowing as a means of expression in the absence of any foreign policy clout. This was because extraordinary individual talent, which is random, was less important than dogged, unglamorous application of simple training principles. Being thorough brought the East Germans near to the top of the Olympic gold medal tables.

Being thorough is likely to bring Cambridge the Beefeater Trophy this afternoon. Far from starting from scratch, the problem for the coaches has been to teach a common method in less than six months so that an effective rhythm can be found for a group of high achievers from four different sources.

The stern pair of Thorsten Streppelhoff and Peter Hoeltzenbein rowed together in the German national eight who won at the World Championships last year and will go for selection as the German pair this year. They remained sceptical through the autumn that the style changes demanded by the Cambridge coaching team were wise but Streppelhoff won the German trials in December with a strange partner, in the absence of Hoeltzenbein, and came back a convert.

He still moves strangely compared with the rest of the crew and owes his position at stroke in part to the danger that he would break the rhythm if he was further back in the boat. He will set the rate and the sharpness of the crew from the stroke seat but the easy, elastic rhythm seems to come from Phelps, Bernstein and Parish in the middle of the boat.

The coaches feel that the greatest contribution of the two Germans is their racing will. 'They are able to give 100 per cent physically, without exhausting themselves mentally, so they're always able to find some more,' Harry Mahon said.

Behind them at No 6, Matthew Parish, has made a complete conversion to the new Cambridge style, which has given him time to sit back and apply his power to the finish of each stroke. Behind him, the American president, Jon Bernstein, who has the best physiological output of the crew, looks equally solid and unflappable. Richard Phelps, at No 4, looks permanently puzzled but completely in tune with the rhythm, leaving Sinclair Gore, the top performer on the rowing ergometer machine, nothing to do but work.

Gore and Mason, behind him in the No 2 seat, took some umbrage at not being the stern pair again, after their victory last year, but would find if they looked from the coaches' end of the telescope that it fits well and works as a unit this way, with Roger Taylor using the bow seat as a springboard for a leading role next year.

Oxford, after coming unstuck a year ago when their polyglot batch of international oarsmen failed to turn into a crew, have undergone a wholesale review of their system. Kingsley Poole, the president, led a development crew through the summer and set an early cut-off date for oarsmen to declare themselves for the race. A sophisticated set of physiological tests have been used to monitor the progress of training, and through the early spring, the crew seemed to be making reasonable progress, although they attracted less attention than the Light Blues.

However, 10 days ago, Richard Tinkler, the professional coach, and his assistant, Tim Bramfitt, were removed and replaced by Fred Smallbone, a Tideway coach who has been on the periphery of the Oxford team for about 10 years. Since then, the gearing of the blades to the rowlocks, which had been too easy, has been altered to make it stiffer.

This week, when little hard work can be done, Smallbone has concentrated on tidying up stylistic quirks but there are still weaknesses apparent. Oxford are far from a bad crew and there is plenty of raw power available which might be harnessed on the day to upset Cambridge. But that would be trusting to luck when, as the East Germans demonstrated in their 20 years of dominance, organisation beats luck every time.

(Photograph and graphics omitted)