Tides, treachery, a crab and a record time in British Boat Race
Oxford and Cambridge Universities shared top honours in this year’s Cancer Research UK Boat Races on Sunday. Oxford won the men’s race by the tightest margin for ten years, while Cambridge romped away with a win in the women’s race after a disastrous start by Oxford.
The Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race is raced over 6779m on Great Britain’s Thames River with two races - a women’s and men’s race. The women’s race turned into a foregone conclusion after the Oxford 4-seat, Rebecca Esselstein, caught a boat-stopping crab off the start and Cambridge powered off into the distance.
Starting on a fast-flooding tide is a key part of the race, practised endlessly by both crews, thus dispelling any suggestion that the race should have been restarted.
Cambridge, whose crew included Irish Olympian Claire Lambe in the 3 seat, went on to win by 11 lengths in the record time of 18 mins 33 secs.
“I was quite nervous off the start myself, because it’s quite hard sitting in the stream and flipping the blade over, but it was only after about 45 seconds that I looked up and saw what had happened” said Lambe afterwards.
An hour later it was the men’s turn. Oxford was level the overall series while Cambridge was attempting back-to-back wins for the first time in almost 20 years.
The Oxford crew included their 5-man, Dutch Olympian Olivier Siegelaar, now doing an MBA degree after winning Olympic bronze for the Netherlands in the men’s eight at Rio. In bow seat was Will Warr, a member of last year’s Cambridge crew and only the third man in Boat Race history to have raced for both universities.
The Oxford men settled into a strong rhythm and moved out to half a half a length advantage before Cambridge used the inside of the first right-hand bend to reduce the deficit to just a quarter of a length.
Both coxswains steered aggressively giving umpire, Sir Matthew Pinsent plenty of exercise for his flag arm. A clash of blades beneath the road bridge approaching the halfway mark briefly threw Oxford’s rhythm but they held their nerve around the bend and tried to seal the result.
But Cambridge were not out of the running, maintaining contact all the way down the long straight to the railway bridge at Barnes, where they got the overlap they required. For a moment it looked as though they might turn the race around. But Oxford looked confident as they held on to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
Warr, who had been accused of treachery by his former crewmates in the run-up to the race after making the switch to Oxford, announced himself exhausted after the race.
“It was a really tough race – it feels good but I’m exhausted,” said Warr. “I had a lot stress and pressure in the build-up and a lot of stuff in the media, but I felt I delivered today.”
Win or lose, those taking part will have little time to rest, as they return to their intensive studies, while many will carry on training in readiness for final British national team trials in two weeks’ time.