The race was won along Chiswick Eyot, where both crews were off the stream to the Surrey side, which meant that the Light Blues were able to pick up more of the benefit when they did eventually come back on line to make the crossing after Chiswick Steps. The crew put in a decisive burst to level after having raced a quarter to a half-length down for two and a half miles. "The boys just had to sit it out and wait their time," said Harry Mahon, the Cambridge coaching adviser.
The blessing for Cambridge was that the fierce wind had died down to a breeze and despite the choppy surface off the start there was no swell. Cambridge were favourites until the last two days of practice, partly because of their record of four consecutive wins but also because as early as the Trial Eights Race in December they appeared to have a strong squad of individuals.
This is dominated by the Canadian international Brad Crombie and the heaviest man in the race, the 22-year-old freshman Alex Story, and led by the 6ft 9in American Ethan Ayer, who had been crucial to the Light Blue victory in 1996. More importantly, after less than three months of training, the squad had adopted the rhythmic style that has been the key to the Cambridge run of success.
In the spring they continued to impress and beat Imperial College - often the litmus test for the Boat Race crews. The mood changed when they were twice beaten by their reserves, Goldie, four days before the race. As a result they changed the seating order, promoting Story to No 7. "We want him to provide the linkage of the rhythm from the stroke James Ball, a winner last year, to the rest of the crew," said Robin Williams, the Cambridge coach.
Oxford had come into the frame after their victory in the Heineken Cup in Amsterdam two weeks ago, beating the French national eight, who had six world champions in the crew.
When Oxford took a slight lead off the start in the stiff breeze and had the advantage of the long Surrey bend in their favour, it looked as though Cambridge would have too big a hill to climb to hold on until the river turned in their favour after three miles. Kevin Whyman, however, pushed Oxford wide to Surrey after Barn Elms and resisted the umpire's warnings, which were sustained for nearly a mile. The doubts that Oxford could capitalise on their lead were sown then, and regular clashes of blades were disrupting the rhythm in both boats.
Once Cambridge had been allowed to move more than two boat widths to the left of the stream at Chiswick Eyot, they had the edge they needed to make their move. The bend was all in Cambridge's favour and their rhythm was rock solid as they dug in for a win richly deserved against the most accomplished Oxford crew since the early Eighties. With two freshmen in the bow four and at least six back next year, they were beaten but will rise again.
Ed Bellamy, the Oxford President, raced with the reserves, Isis, against Goldie. He is the first President to row in the second crew but did it to revive Oxford's interest in the second string and fulfil a personal ambition, which was thwarted when he lost by six and a half lengths.Reuse content