Rowing: Crews concerned over starting delay: Oxford and Cambridge upset by umpire's Boat Race innovation

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The Independent Online
MARK EVANS, the umpire of tomorrow's Boat Race, yesterday threw the Oxford and Cambridge camps into confusion by declaring that he might introduce a delay of up to 10 seconds between 'Set' and 'Go' in his starting command.

Normally, the starter says 'Attention-Set-Go' with a pronounced rhythm, so that the crews can move their oars from the 'feathered' position, with the back of the blade flat on the top of the water, to a 'squared' position, with the blade buried in the water ready to pull. In still water, crews find it easier to square together and then, a moment later, to draw the first stroke through the water. Any other process becomes disjointed and scrappy.

The extra complication of the Boat Race is that the river will be running under the boats which are held level by stake- boat men. If a crew anticipates the command and squares too long before the 'Go', even if the oarsmen sit still the river will pull the boat away from the stake-boat.

As Bob Hastings, a stake-boat man, said last night: 'If the boats start to drag I will let go, before I am dragged out of the stake-boat.'

If the boats do not square until the word 'Go' is heard, the start will be messy and slow; if they square early, in preparation, they risk being dragged over the line and causing a false start, for which the ultimate sanction of disqualification will please no one.

The crews drastically cut down their training yesterday: the unremitting work of the past six months gave way to physical idleness and mental preparation.

Sean Bowden, the Cambridge coach, said: 'For us, tapering off the training is half for the benefit of the brain, to get it focused, and half for the body, to get it juiced up.' His crew did a short practice session in the morning, which concentrated on power training.