ROWING Oxford look to future

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Cambridge's victory in the Boat Race on Saturday was a tribute to the excellence of their training and coaching system. Although Oxford can also draw some consolation from their performance, it is Cambridge who have set the standards in preparation for the race.

Cambridge won by four lengths after a contest that largely went according to plan. As Richard Phelps, the Cambridge president, said after the race: "We knew they would be as fast or faster than us for the first half. We also knew we would be fast for the whole course."

Given that Cambridge began their preparations six months ago blessed with a powerful group of men with an average age of 25, their performance on Saturday merely confirmed the advantage that the Light Blues have established.

The systems they have in place offer great hope for the future, despite the fact that on present expectations Robin Williams, the Cambridge coach, will have only one survivor from this crew, the stroke Miles Barnett, when he starts again next year. However, Williams has a system that has proved itself in his debut year and a well selected bunch of fresh, if experienced, oarsmen will fill Goldie Boathouse next October.

Although this was Oxford's third consecutive defeat, the Dark Blues were not humiliated and have made a big step towards their recovery from the internal collapse which brought their long run of victories to a close in 1993. Next year Oxford will have three, and perhaps four survivors from this year's crew, plus the cox, Abbie Chapman, who is small but perfectly cast for this role.

In spite of losing in their first year in charge of Oxford, Daniel Topolski and Penny Chuter and their assistants have established a sound reputation. They will be hoping that many of those who chose to row for the Leander Club (or simply chose not to row at all) may want to return to an Oxford set-up which might now fulfil their ambitions.

However, there was an ominous signal that the Dark Blues are not completely rehabilitated when Isis, the reserve crew, were demolished, losing by 44 seconds to Goldie.

In the main event Oxford got away more quickly and after a minute had established a small lead. By the Black Buoy the Cambridge boat had settled into the race pace and was back on level terms.

Abbie Chapman then steered Oxford as hard left, pushing Cambridge to Surrey and out of the stream, as the umpire, Lynton Richmond, would allow. Cambridge built up a small lead but had it pulled back twice. Both crews were going too hard for it to last and the only admissions of worry by Light Blues after the race referred to this point. Marko Banovic said: "We sat four or five minutes half a length up and not doing anything about it. I am a very energetic person, I like to do things quickly. But Harry [Mahon] had said `Marko, be patient', so we waited and when we had a big push at Harrods we went clear very quickly."

As Oxford turned into the headwind towards Chiswick Eyot four seconds down, the lack of pedigree horsepower became apparent. Jorn-Inge Throndsen was left to drive his crew into the surf and pray that, as sometimes happens, the stern of the opposition boat would gradually be pulled back into view. Cambridge, however, were too far ahead, too strong and too relieved to make any mistakes and ploughed on to win in 18min 4sec, 12 seconds ahead of Oxford.