Rowing: Oxford's old school tide

Andrew Longmore discovers that Eton's rowers are entering a rare blue period

A STREAK of Etonian light blue will run through the dark blue boat for the 144th boat race on Saturday. Behind Andrew Lindsay in the Oxford crew will be Ed Coode, not far away James Roycroft, all three products of a system of excellence every bit as efficient as the one now being exposed in a Bonn courtroom. At Eton, elitism does not necessarily refer to the presence of royalty or a healthy bank balance. A steady stream of international oarsmen have emerged from the 100 or so "wet bobs" who each year start their careers by messing about on the river. Rarely, though, has the college produced such a talented collection of oarsmen.

In total, seven Old Etonians will row down the Tideway on Saturday. Three in the Oxford boat, three - Ed Foster, Rich Evelyn and Alex Cooper - in Isis, the dark blue second VIII, and one, Theo Brun, for Goldie, the Cambridge second VIII. Any more, and the Monopolies Commission would be called in to investigate. "Just pure chance, I think," Lindsay said. "I began rowing, like many of us, because I didn't want to play cricket. My two brothers rowed at Eton, so it seemed a natural thing for me to do too. Ed's just malcoordinated. That's why he rowed. He couldn't catch a cricket ball if he tried."

Bruce Grainger, Eton's head of rowing, was international performance director of the Amateur Rowing Association until 1991. He resigned over the appointment of Jurgen Grobler, the super coach from east Germany whose own involvement in the drug culture of the eastern bloc is at present under investigation. Neglecting what he called the "more sinister aspects" of the mighty east German machine, Grainger still appreciates the underlying importance of statistics in the identification and development of talent. In its own way, Eton has applied systematic principles to its highly productive rowing programme. "If you take 1,000 young rowers, you have a better chance of finding an Olympic champion than if you have 10," he said. "The laws of probability will start to work in your favour."

Boys start in sculls, specialise in rowing in their second year and then graduate through junior IVs and VIIIs under the guidance of year coaches until the creme de la creme emerge at the top to staff the crack first VIII. From there, with the educational flow between Eton and Oxbridge working in their favour, it is a mere hop to Boat Race glory. "I never felt under any pressure to row," Lindsay recalled. "My ambition was always to carry on. Pressure doesn't come so much from the masters, but from your fellow oarsmen."

Etonians can boast a hatful of Olympic medals down the years; only occasionally does a specimen as strong and determined as Matt Pinsent emerge from the Masters boathouse, one of three at Eton, to rewrite the college - and Olympic - annals. Pinsent, it should be remembered, led Oxford to resounding defeat in the Boat Race.

The re-emergence of Eton as a central force in the Boat Race is heartening for the future of the race itself. The days of bad Boris Rankov, the aged, perennial, American graduate who epitomised the lost spirit of simple inter-varsity competition, have long gone. Both crews have an even balance of graduate to undergraduate, a reflection of sharpened standards of junior rowing and of a move by both varsity boat clubs to integrate themselves more fully into the international development system. Three members of the Oxford crew have already undergone assessment tests in the midst of the sacred programmes geared to settling one of sport's oldest rivalries, a luxury not afforded some of their predecessors. Shortly after Saturday's race, they will be required for international training camps.

"There was a suspicion of Oxbridge oarsmen before," Lindsay said. "They were good oarsmen, but they didn't turn up for trials. I mean, we're preparing for a race now, internationals are preparing for the worlds in September. Both varsities now have good systems, they're making more allowance for us and we're trying to move towards them. If you videoed the GB VIII and the Oxbridge VIIIs, there wouldn't be much technical difference now."

For the next six days, though, only the little parochial spat matters. Oxford have a nucleus of old blues scarred from narrow defeat a year ago and there is a feeling that under the guidance of Sean Bowden, the end of a painful sequence of five defeats is nigh. "The difference for me," Lindsay said, "is that I'm really looking forward to it. Last year, I was terrified, of the day, of being the centre of attention, of the media. Last year, there was a slight sense of aimlessness in our preparation, not quite knowing what we were training for. Now when everything seems pointless, cold and miserable, you remember how bad it was to lose."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee