So history has been made. The women of Oxford and Cambridge have raced each other on the same course and the same day as the men. It was definitely an “event”, an “I was there” moment. Reports suggest that almost 300,000 people lined the banks of the Thames to watch. Viewing figures from the BBC indicate an audience of 4.8 million watched the women’s race – a superb number considering it clashed with the Grand National and the Masters golf. The BBC have also said this makes the Women’s Boat Race the most watched women’s sporting event outside of Wimbledon, The Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. In some respects the actual result was of secondary importance, and to be honest it was not a surprise. When the squads were announced the writing was pretty much on the wall. Oxford had a hugely talented squad to choose from. Both the men’s and women’s Dark Blue crews featured talismanic strokes with Stan Louloudis in the men’s crew and Caryn Davies in the women’s crew.
The race itself went as predicted, I said in my preview that I couldn’t see any other result than a big Oxford victory. Although the margin wasn’t quite as big as I thought. I put it at at least 8 lengths – in the end it was 6.5 lengths. I thought Oxford looked so powerful and really from the first stroke they put Cambridge in their place and controlled the race from pretty much the end of the Fulham Wall. Cambridge on the other hand looked ragged from Hammersmith onwards. Watching the race again I must admit the bladework on strokeside looked very untidy from the Bandstand onwards, in particular, unfortunately it looked to be the President, Caroline Reid in the 3 seat who looked to be suffering the most with her blade skying at the catch. Cambridge looked to have front-loaded their race and were, perhaps, paying the price later in the race.
In the men’s race the story was similar. Oxford had by far the more powerful squad on paper. But, Cambridge had definitely improved in the final few weeks in the run-up to the race. On the day I don’t think they performed to their full ability. They had a poor start and had to scramble to get back on terms. Oxford looked in control, even when side by side with the Light Blues. Oxford’s cox, Will Hakim, called for the hammer to be laid down coming through Hammersmith and the crew responded in awesome fashion. They managed the rough water very well and just stretched away. In the run up to the race I reckoned that Cambridge would hold on to Oxford until the Chiswick Eyot when Oxford’s power would enable them to stride away, and so it proved.
The race of the day, from the live tweeting by @TidewayBulletin, was the Isis v Goldie race. Unfortunately there was very little coverage of what looked to be one of the best races in the history of the race. Goldie took control from the start and by the Town Buoy had opened up a half a length lead. They extended this to a length at Barn Elms and it looked like there was a real upset on the cards. They continued to move away from Isis to get nearly a length of clear water. Then Isis began to put the hammer down – Oxford crews all seem to lay down a massive 2 minute surge coming through Hammersmith. Isis got the overlap along Chiswick Eyot and by the Bandstand they were level. From then on Isis just rowed away from Goldie recording a 3 length victory. Isis took almost 5 lengths out of Goldie in the last 2 miles of the race. An astonishing performance.
So what does this mean for the two Universities. It all boils down to recruitment. Oxford simply have had a better talent pool to draw on than Cambridge. In the women’s race they were totally outclassed and I’m not sure there was much else coach Rob Baker could do. In the men’s race the questions will begin to be asked about the coaching team. Will Steve Trapmore retain his position? He can produce technically good crews but they seem to lack the power and intensity of Bowden’s crews. My gut instinct is he’s more suited to a 2K type crew rather than the Boat Race. This is the first time this century that one university has recorded a hat-trick of victories, there must be an expectation that something needs to change in the Light Blue camp
But as I said above, they can only work with the talent pool they are handed. It’ll be very interesting to see what sort of recruitment they can put together. If I were in the Cambridge camp I’d be looking at the US colleges to try and attract some of the top women’s varsity rowers to come and do a post-grad course at Cambridge. 2017 is going to be the most interesting year in the women’s race. I can envisage a big number of Rio Olympians looking to have a crack at the Boat Race (and challenge themselves academically) in the post-Olympic year.
We shall see….