The official announcement of the Cancer Research UK Boat Race crews happened this week so I thought I’d do my usual seat by seat preview, especially after I saw this tweet!
So I better get on with it then!
Looking back at the 2015 race it was pretty easy to call the races as soon as the squads were announced. Both the Oxford men’s and women’s squads were outstanding and probably some of the finest Boat Race crews for decades. For the 2016 squads it’s a different story. The squads are much, much closer…so….starting with the men’s boats
Name: George McKirdy
The former Lightweight GB trialist is one of 5 graduates in the Oxford Blue Boat. As a member of Nottingham University he raced at the European University rowing championships in 2010-11 and 2013 winning gold in the LM8 in 2010 and followed that up with a bronze in 2011 and silver in 2013. In 2014 he progressed to the World University Games taking bronze in the LM4-. At 27 he’s the oldest man in the Oxford Boat and at 77kg he’s the lightest rower in the race by 6lbs.
Name: Felix Newman
After successive years in Goldie, Newman finally wins a seat in the Blue Boat. Those races in Goldie will have been a painful experience. 2014 saw the biggest defeat in 19 years and 2015 saw Isis overhaul an open-water deficit to win by 3 lengths. Now Newman has a chance to get revenge when it matters. Before Cambridge, Newman was part of the highly successful Abingdon School crew winning the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley three times in a row.
My verdict….evens….McKirdy is highly experienced but Newman knows what it’s like to lose on the Championship course and will be anxious not to repeat the experience.
Name: James White
The youngest man in the race the former Windsor Boys School pupil raced for Great Britain at the Junior World Championships in 2014, finishing 13th in the JM2X. So far at Oxford he raced in the 3 seat of the number 1 Isis Elite 4+ at the Head of The River Fours which finished 19 seconds behind the top Cambridge boat. More known for his sculling expertise (as are all Windsor Boys pupils) it’s interesting to see him switch to single blade rowing
Name: Ali Abbasi
Another member of the 2015 Goldie crew Abbasi is a University of Chicago graduate, like Newman he’ll be itching to put right the defeat from last year.
My verdict: advantage, just, to Oxford. White is an exciting young oarsman and ideally suited to the two seat
Name: Morgan Gerlak
A member of last year’s victorious Isis crew, Gerlak is a graduate of Brown University with whom he won silver at the IRA Championships in 2012 and 2014. In 2013 he won his first international vest as part of the USA U23 M4- and took a bronze medal. The shortest rower in the Oxford boat, he is, however highly experienced, both as an international and as a collegiate oarsman for Brown.
Name: Charles Fisher
The youngest rower in the Cambridge boat, the former Kings College School, Wimbledon oarsman is also probably the least experienced of the Light Blue crew. But, despite his youth and relative inexperience, he’s already made his mark on the international scene being part of the GB team at the 2012 Coupe de la Jeunesse.
Verdict: Advantage Oxford. Gerlak is one of the most experienced members of the Oxford boat. But, Fisher is an exciting young oarsman and he won his seat by bettering oarsmen much older and more experienced than him.
Name: Josh Bugajski
The heaviest member of the Oxford boat, Bugajski was a member of the Isis crew in 2015, in most years he would have won his first Blue last year. It’s a testament to just how good last year’s crew was that an oarsman like Bugajski missed out. The Cardiff graduate looked to be on the verge of senior international honours following selection in the U23 M4X in 2012 but he’s not made the step up…..yet. At the Head of the River Fours he was also part of the top Isis 4+
Name: Clemens Auersperg
The tallest and heaviest man in the race, Clemens won a seat in the Austrian M4- at last year’s World Championships – despite not winning a seat in that year’s Blue Boat. He’s one of five graduates in the Blue Boat (all of them from US universities). Auersperg spent four years at Columbia as part of their Varsity crew.
Verdict: Advantage Cambridge. Auersperg is one of only two senior internationals in the race (both of them in Light Blue). Bugajski is a massively strong and talented oarsman but Cambridge just have the advantage.
Name: Leo Carrington
Nationality: British/New Zealand
A graduate of Imperial College Carrington has trialled for the GB U23 team and was a regular member of the Imperial College crews. In his first season at Oxford he raced in the Isis 3rd 4+ at the Head of the River Fours finishing 5th in Elite 4+.
Name: Luke Juckett
One of four returning Blues, Juckett is set to win his 3rd Blue. He, of all the returning Cambridge Blues, will be looking to slay the demons of past defeats. In 2014 he caught a huge crab which nearly threw him out of the boat. At trials this season he also caught a boat-stopper of a crab…he’ll be anxious to get this year’s race completed without “incident”! A graduate of Wisconsin he took bronze at the Eastern Sprints in 2011-12.
Verdict: Advantage Cambridge. Juckett’s experience of two Boat Races (despite losing both) gives him a definite edge.
Name: Jorgen Tveit
The third of Oxford’s returning Isis oarsmen, Tveit learnt to row at St. George’s College Weybridge and is one of only two undergraduates in the Oxford boat.
Name: Henry Hoffstot
The 4th returning Blue (and the third of the Cambridge crew to get his third Blue), this year’s Cambridge President, Hoffstot represented the USA at the 2014 World Championships finishing 8th in the M2+. In 2013 he stroked the Taurus BC crew to victory in the Britannia Challenge Cup at Henley.
Verdict: clear advantage to Cambridge, Hoffstot is one the most experienced men in the race.
Name: James Cook
Cook is the most experienced member of the Dark Blue crew. A winner of the PE with Abingdon School he raced for GB at the U23 world Championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Cook is the sole survivor from last year’s outstanding Oxford Blue Boat. A graduate of the University of London he has also won his first senior international vest, racing in the GB M2- at the 2nd World Rowing Cup in 2013. He certainly has the talent to win many more senior international honours, and who knows, he could feature for GB at the Tokyo Olympics.
Name: Ben Ruble
The 2nd of Cambridge’s Wisconsin alumni and another returning Blue. Ruble is part of a Cambridge quartet of returning Blues out for revenge. Ruble was in the top Cambridge 4+ at the Head of the River Fours that beat a Leander boat full of World and Olympic Champions (including Oxford’s 2015 President, Stan Louloudis). This line up also finished a close 2nd in Champ 4+ at the Head of the Charles.
Verdict: Advantage Oxford, Cook has huge experience and knows how to win this race. But Ruble isn’t far behind and is part of a massively strong stern four in the Light Blue Boat.
Name: Nik Hazell
The tallest man in the Oxford boat. Hazell is set to win his first Blue at his 3rd attempt. In 2014 and 2015 he was part of the hugely impressive Isis boats (crews that could possibly have beaten the Cambridge Blue boats).
Name: Lance Tredell
The oldest man in the Cambridge Boat, Lance Tredell is another of the Light Blues has international representative honours. In 2013 he competed for GB throughout the World Cup season, winning gold in Sydney and finishing 4th in Eton and 8th in Lucerne as part of the GB 2nd M8. He also has two Henley wins under his belt winning the Ladies Plate in 2013 and 2014.
Verdict: definite advantage to Cambridge. It’s a great move from Trapmore to put one of his most experienced guys in the stroke seat. His experience and racing nous could well be the tipping point for the Light Blues.
Name: Sam Collier
The ex-Hampton 1st 8 cox took control of the Isis boat in 2015 and has won the battle to steer this year’s Blue Boat. His handling of the Reserves race last year was superb. Despite being behind by over a length he held his nerve and called his crew to a superb 3 length victory. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of the Blue Boats.
Name: Ian Middleton
Despite being the youngest member of the crew, Middleton is heading for his 3rd Blue. The 3rd Abingdon School representative in the race, Middleton is a hugely experienced coxswain. In 2013 he steered the GB JM8 and the following year he stepped up to the U23 boat. Could he be in the running to replace Phelan Hill after Rio?
Verdict: definite advantage to Cambridge. Middleton is one of the most experienced coxes in the country, despite his tender years. On the Boat Race course, more than any other race, the role of the cox is crucial and Middleton’s experience could well be a race winner for the Light Blues.
So who do I think will win? My seat by seat gives it 5 to 3 to Cambridge. The Light Blues have a very strong top end of their squad. The top four of Hoffstot, Ruble, Tredell, Juckett and Middleton had a fantastic Head of the Charles and Head of the River Fours. Oxford probably have more strength in depth, but the Light Blues top end gives them the edge. Recent fixtures have also been most enlightening. Particularly those v Oxford Brookes. In their race against Cambridge Brookes had some “interesting” tactics, flying off the start to a length lead before being overhauled by the Blues. Cambridge showed great rhythm and composure in those pieces. Against the dark Blues it was a different story. Despite disruption from some sailors it was a tight contest. But, the 2nd piece, in increasingly rough conditions the Dark Blues got their arses handed to them. Brookes winning by 2 lengths. What was most telling was how Oxford responded when Brookes put them under pressure. It was most surprising at the apparent lack of fight in the Dark Blue boat towards the end of the race, this is not something one normally associates with a Bowden crew.
So to answer my own question…..I’m going for a Light Blue win. I reckon Oxford will lead off the start but by Chiswick Eyot the Light Blues will be in front and will take the race by a length.
The preview of the women’s race will follow in the next few days…