Rowing: Germans the driving force behind Cambridge's record win

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THE Thames ran on Saturday for Cambridge like no other day in Boat Race history and what, before, we had considered possibly the fastest crew ever, proved it by wiping 26 seconds off the record for this race and 18 seconds off all other records for the distance.

Cambridge were given all the help the high Spring tide could offer and the wind was a benign, if faint, tail for most of the course. This was demonic rowing born first of the fierce struggle over the first mile with an Oxford crew which strategically, tactically, and for all practical purposes had to do everything in its more limited power to stay in touch as long as could be.

But the force of Cambridge had been inexorable from the first moment the squad assembled on the Cam in October. Taller and heavier than ever before, this was above all a highly skilled crew in a high skill sport. The work of the coaches was the key. Ian Dryden had taught three of these men to row while at the University. Two came from Germany as existing world champions but had to be drawn into the Cambridge style by Robin Williams and Harry Mahon.

The crew order was important and although there was an implicit risk in placing the forceful character and significantly most powerful man Stefan Forster at No 7 it paid off as he combined so well with the beautifully rhythmic Marc Weber at stroke to provide the platform from which the other six could keep pushing the boat further inside the records as each signal was passed to their triumphant finish.

Once clear of the Dark Blues after Hammersmith Bridge Cambridge were free, not to relax, but to build their speed through rhythm; undistracted by the clashing of blades and roaring of coxswains and the waving of flags by the umpire, which had accompanied them through the first six and a half minutes.

Oxford's chance of winning, bluntly put to them before the race, in the tactical discussions with the coach, Sean Bowden, was that they would take a lead in the first four minutes by their quicker start and by using the Middlesex station, if they got the choice. Oxford won the toss and president Andrew Lindsay chose the northern side with its advantage in the first and last miles knowing his crew would have to hang on round the outside of the long bend through the middle of the course.

Their reserves, Isis, had faced the same task and had been led by Goldie for 13 minutes until, level with the Bandstand, they had thrown in another 20-stroke push with most of the crew too far gone to be clear where they were on the course. Then they heard the cox calling them through the opposition as Goldie, stroked by the Light Blue president, David Cassidy, crumbled. Isis then had the comfort of the last bend to sweep away to win by two and a half lengths in 17min 2sec, a record for their own race, and a time which had only been broken by the Blue Boats five times.