rowingvoice

The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Archive for April, 2017

Sitting on the Tideway fence

Posted by rowingvoice on April 2, 2017

It’s tempting to break with journalistic tradition when writing a Boat Race preview for real rowers, and refuse to make a proper prediction.  But in an apt game of two halves, as I write this looking west from Putney towards Fulham Football Ground on the morning of race day, I’m going to sit on the fence slightly for the men’s race but make an utterly unsurprising prediction about the women’s.

The 72nd Women’s Boat Race, going off first on the racecard later today, must be Cambridge’s to lose, something which has rarely been said in the last 16 years during which they have won only four races.  Oxford’s women are a decent crew, but Cambridge are superb, and it probably didn’t need the LIght Blues’ emphatic second place only four seconds behind Leander at the Women’s Head, to confirm it.  More importantly, the Molesey crew which came fifth at the Head, 45 seconds slower than Cambridge, raced honours even with Oxford only a week later in two half-course pieces.  Fixtures are not the Boat Race, and that was two weeks ago, but this is a powerful and experienced Cambridge crew who are a credit to women’s rowing.

During starts on Friday at the Fulham Wall, Oxford’s women were fractionally higher rating in their wind-up and settled a little later than Cambridge, but the Light Blues were at least a second quicker to the end of the Star and Garter building, regardless of station – raising the prospect that the Dark Blues may have to use up some serious energy staying with them over the first couple of minutes.  Oxford have shuffled their crew since the weigh-in, re-rigging from bow to stroke-side stroked to put Canadian international Emily Cameron in the hot seat.

Much has been made of how Westminster School will have a winner in the Women’s Boat Race regardless of the result, since both coxes hail from there.  They didn’t race each other at school – Ellie Shearer is a couple of years above Matthew Holland, and in fact only rowed at Westminster, starting proper coxing when she got to Oxford.  Oxford have no returning Blues and their president Isa von Loga had to retire injured from trialling this year, while Cambridge sees four returners including Myriam Goudet and President Ashton Brown, who will be spurred on by the swamping which marred last year’s event, as well as former Olympic lightweight Claire Lambe.

“For us this year there’s been a lot of rebuilding and a lot of new structures in place,” said their coach Ali Williams, “so it’s just trying to do what we can each day to bring the boat together.  It’s just a matter of trying to do the best we can on the day and see what the result ends up being.”  By contrast Cambridge coach Rob Baker has without a hint of bragging described his crew as the best that Cambridge has ever produced.

Given that relatively calm conditions may lend themselves to a fast race, there is every chance the Light Blues, who covered the Women’s Eights Head in 18-17, could match that in the opposite direction today which would bring down the official fastest Tideway time for the women’s race to within two minutes of the men’s record.  The outcome looks to be in Cambridge’s hands, but the chances are strong that her old university will win the first full Blues Boat Race umpired on the BBC by Sarah Winckless, making history as the first televised female umpire for the event.

On the men’s side it’s much harder to be certain.  Both crews have looked good all week, and there was little to choose between them during practice starts.  Cambridge drop their blades in more delicately and build the power during the stroke, while Oxford have Sean Bowden’s trademark hook-and-sweep, a more definitive start to the stroke.  Both techniques can work over a full course, and both look at home in the rather bumpy high-tide water their Boat Race will deliver, so race coxing and coolness under fire may matter more than normal.

Betting is firmly on the side of the Oxford men, perhaps due to them managing to beat Brookes a month ago, while OBUBC got the better of Cambridge in January.  It’s dubious how comparable that is, though – Boat Race crews accelerate in their preparation more than Head crews during the final two months, and when Cambridge are on form they are very fast.  Knowledgeable punters may also be taking into account the fact that Sean Bowden has not lost two Boat Races in a row (neither at Oxford nor at Cambridge), and he is never more dangerous than when coming back from a defeat.

In pedigree terms, Oxford have five returning blues and the two Olympians Olivier Siegelaar and Michael DiSanto, while Cambridge have only two returning Blues and no Olympians, but the slight advantage in weight and height.  They also have the knowledge that three former Blues are now sitting in Goldie, meaning the newcomers will have earned their seats.  For the likes of Freddie Davidson, the Light Blue 2-seat who at 18 is the youngest in the race, this is a serious vote of confidence.

Michael DiSanto, Oxford’s President, benefits from not having rowed in last year’s losing crew – he was away training for the Olympics in the US national team.  Of the 2016 loss to Cambridge he said “It’s not something we talk about too much – it’s a new crop of guys so we wouldn’t want to force that down the throat of the boat.  We had to find what unifies nine of us this year.”  “There’s a new sense of purpose for the race this year,” said his coach, Sean Bowden.

The press have been excited by the prospect of a serious rivalry given that Oxford’s bowman Will Warr rowed for Cambridge two years ago.  He will be only the third openweight man to have rowed in both side’s Blue Boats in the history of the race (there have been others in the women’s and lightweight crews), but the lack of communication with his old team-mates is more to do with focus on his own job than any real antipathy.  However, for those who love patterns, his two predecessors both moved from losses with Cambridge and then won with their new university, Oxford.

Back to the rowing, there is something about Oxford’s final few days of paddling which hints at hidden extra strengths, and suggests the smart money may not be wrong.  But in the end this year’s men’s Boat Race, which could be close for many minutes, may well come down to which has the weakest, rather than the strongest, link.

Rachel Quarrell.

Advertisements

Posted in Boat Race, history, women | Leave a Comment »