Rowing: Varsity eights mix nations and expertise

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The Independent Online
OXFORD UNIVERSITY went through the formal protocol of challenging Cambridge to a boat race from Putney to Mortlake for the 145th time yesterday and mercifully were accepted. Otherwise 18 competitors of considerable brain would have been loose on the streets of Putney with little but mayhem to cause.

The crews for the race, starting at 3.30pm on Saturday 3 April, are the equivalent in standard to the Under-23 World Championship eights and again look well matched. Each has a rich blend of experienced oarsmen with senior international experience and talented youth.

The youngest man in each crew is 20. Dan Snow for Oxford and Tom Stallard at Cambridge are each products of the rowing public schools and were on the same 1996 Junior World Championships team.

The oldest in each is, in the modern Boat Race tradition, foreign and an Olympian. Brad Crombie, 28 and the Light Blue president, is a Canadian international who was spare man in the Atlanta Olympics. Yesterday was the 30th birthday of Henrik Nilsson, the first Swede to row in the Boat Race in 1998 and a competitor in the double scull in Atlanta.

However much it upsets those spectators who still dream of an all-British all- undergraduate race, the mix and match of nationalities and experience that are a genuine reflection of the student body at either place has provided much faster and closer races.

Oxford, who had the winning habit from the mid-Seventies until 1993, have tried to break back with steadily better crews for the past three years only to find Cambridge going even faster. Last year both crews shattered the previous record. Since then Cambridge have lost several key athletes, including Alex Story, who came to the crew late but was a crucial influence.

The Light Blue president, Crombie, can still rely on the winning experience of Graham Smith who, still only 23, first won a junior world gold in 1991, and on Toby Wallace, who has a shorter pedigree but at 6ft 7in. has the better levers.

As Robin Williams, their coach, said: "I feel we need to plan the race tactically. We should spread the experience through the boat and give the right backing to those who have not done it before. We will need the right mind in the right seat regardless of how well they row or how strong they are."

At Oxford one of the most experienced, James Roycroft, has lost his seat to a man who rowed in the winning reserve crew last year.

There are three surviving Blues, last year's president Andrew Lindsay, the Swede Nilsson and the president this time, Charlie Humphreys. Sean Bowden, the Dark Blue coach, for the last two races says: "They are not ahead in plain strength but I think the racing temperament is right. They are more up for it."

BOAT RACE CREWS

CAMBRIDGE

B Crombie (president) (McGill Univ, Can, and Peterhouse) age 28, 6ft 6in, 15st 4lb

D O M Ellis (Harvard, US, and Trinity) 23, 6ft 5in, 14st 6lb

G D C R Smith (UCL and St Edmund's) 23, 6ft 3.75in, 14st 5lb

T A Stallard (Jesus) 20, 6ft 3.5in, 13st 8lb

T J Wallace (Jesus) 22, 6ft 7in, 15st 7lb;

A J West (Yale, US, and Gonville and Caius) 22, 6ft 8in, 14st 11lb

K West (Christ's) 21, 6ft 8in, 14st 11lb

T Wooge (Ger) (North-Eastern Univ, US, and Magdalene) 26, 6ft 7.75in, 15st 4lb

V Sharif (cox) (Clare) 19, 5ft, 7st 6lb.

OXFORD

T H Ayer (US, Worcester) 24, 6ft 5in, 15st 9lb

M A L Crooks (Millbay, Can, and St Anne's) 22, 6ft 2in, 14st 1lb

M M Crotty (US, Keble) 23, 6ft 5in, 14st 12lb

C Von Ettingshausen (Ger, Keble) 27, 6ft 4.5in, 15st 2lb

C P A Humphreys (president) (Hampton School and Oriel College) 22, 6ft 3.5in, 13st 1lb

A J R Lindsay (Eton and Brasenose) 22, 6ft 1in, 14st 3lb

L H K Nilsson (Univ of Lund, Swe, and Hertford) 30, 6ft 3.25in, 14st 1lb

D R Snow (St Paul's and Balliol) 20, 6ft 6in, 15st 9lb

N J O'Donnell (cox) (Rutgers Univ, US and Keble) 23, 5ft 9in, 8st 8lb.

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