Drama overshadows 2012 Boat Race
The Oxford vs. Cambridge University Boat Race on the River Thames in London, England created headlines around the world on 7 April, when a protester swam across the course, causing the race to be stopped by the umpire.
After the restart a clash of blades caused damage to the Oxford boat and only seven of the crew were able to row. This allowed Cambridge to win comfortably.
The drama continued when the bowman of the Oxford crew collapsed over the line and was rushed to hospital. Woods’ condition cast a sombre mood among the crews and their supporters at the finish, where the trophy presentation was cancelled.
Once again there was a strong international presence in both crews, especially Cambridge, whose line-up included just one British-born athlete – Mike Thorp in the five seat. Five other nations were represented – Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the USA and the Netherlands – with Roel Haan, the Oxford stroke, becoming only the third Dutchman ever to row in the historic race.
Despite giving away a weight advantage of almost 8kg per man Oxford, who won last year’s encounter, were the pre-race favourites. Statistically the heavier crew wins two out of every three Boat Races but Sean Bowden, the experienced Oxford coach, was relying on the superior technique of his crew against the raw power of the opposition. Chief coach for Cambridge, and attempting to reverse last year’s defeat, was Steve Trapmore, stroke of the British men’s eight which took the Olympic gold medal at Sydney 2000.
Cambridge won the Toss and their president, Australian Dave Nelson, chose the Surrey station – the more southerly of the two lanes on the 6.8km upstream course which runs from East to West.
True to form, Oxford got away to a very fast start, while Cambridge took time to gather momentum, and after the first minute Oxford already had half a length advantage. But then Cambridge, who had the outside lane of the first right-hand bend, moved up a gear as both crews were warned repeatedly for their steering by umpire John Garrett.
Oxford still had the edge as the crew passed the first intermediate timing position 1.6km into the race but Cambridge went on the attack again and had drawn level by the first bridge on the course at Hammersmith. Oxford now had to work hard around the outside of the next big left-hand bend and as the second half unfolded there was the prospect of another great race as neither crew could get ahead.
But ten minutes into the race a swimmer appeared in the water right ahead of the Oxford crew, and was immediately spotted by four-time Olympic Champion Sir Matthew Pinsent from the umpire’s launch. With the prospect of injury to either crew or the swimmer, the umpire stopped the race and chaos ensued.
The pace of the incoming tide had already caused both crews to float further upstream, while the wash created by the flotilla of launches which follow the race had churned up the surface of the river to create potentially unfair conditions.
It took half an hour for order to be restored as the crews took up positions at the point where the obstruction had occurred and the race was restarted.
Oxford immediately established their superiority to go one third of a length ahead, but their coxswain Zoe de Toledo had steered too close to Cambridge and despite more warnings from the umpire there was a serious clash of oars. The Oxford 6 man, former German international Hanno Wienhausen, lost the spoon from the end of his blade, but the umpire decided that Oxford had been out of their water when the collision occurred and the race was allowed to continue. With the Oxford crew now reduced to only seven men the race was effectively over, and Cambridge paddled home to win.
But Oxford never gave up the struggle to get back on terms, despite their disadvantage, and former lightweight Alex Woods collapsed in his seat as his crew crossed the finishing line, before being lifted into a waiting rescue launch. After being admitted to a local hospital he was discharged the following day, fit and well.
The win means that Cambridge has once again extended their lead in the series, which began in 1829. Cambridge has now won 81 races to Oxford’s 76, with one dead heat in 1877.
Copy thanks to Robert Treharne Jones