Following on from my preview of the Women’s Blue Boats it’s time to turn my attention to the men. Last year saw an excellent Light Blue crew break a run of three Oxford wins to record only their 6th win of the century. The question this year is with just 2 Blues returning from last year’s crew, can Cambridge repeat their win from 2016?
Here is the seat by seat analysis….
Name: William Warr
Warr has already won a Blue, albeit in Cambridge colours. He was part of the losing Light Blue boat in 2015. He’s raced for GB at U23 level, just missing a medal in the M4+ in 2014. He’s also raced in the Senior GB M8 at the EON Hanse Cup and won the Ladies Plate at Henley with what was, in effect, the GB 2nd 8. At the World University Championships he was part of the GB M8 that won gold in 2014. He has his sights firmly set on senior international honours and perhaps a place at the Tokyo Olympics, at the recent GB Senior trials he and crewmate Josh Bugajski finished 6th (7 seconds ahead of the best Cambridge pair).
Name: Ben Ruble
Winning his third Blue, Ruble has a record so far of won one, lost one. A graduate of Wisconsin University he’s been a mainstay of the Cambridge boat throughout his three years. Last year’s 7 seat he’s now moved to the other end of the boat. Ruble was part of the top Goldie coxed 4 at the Head of the River Fours in November which won the elite 4+ division, beating the top Isis boat by a whopping 12 seconds (repeating the feat they achieved at the 2015 HOR4’s).
Verdict: this is an interesting battle between two former crewmates. Ruble is one of the most experienced Boat Race rowers in the Cambridge crew, but Warr is an athlete about to break into the big time. I’m calling this a narrow advantage to Oxford.
Name: Matt O’Leary
The shortest and lightest man in the race (he’s a full 17cm shorter and 26.4 kg lighter than team mate Olivier Siegelaar) O’Leary is nevertheless an experienced senior international oarsman. He made his international debut racing in the US U23 LM4X at the 2011 World Championships. He then made his senior debut in 2014 racing in the LM8 and the LM4X the following year. A Harvard graduate, he won the Lightweight Varsity 8’s at the IRA Championships and the Eastern Sprints and was co-captain in the 2012 boat that went undefeated all season.
Name: Freddie Davidson
The youngest man in the race (he doesn’t turn 19 until the end of May) Davidson is one of the most exciting young oarsmen in Britain. No stranger to the Tideway, he learnt to row at St. Paul’s School and was a member of their outstanding 1st VIII that won the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley in 2015. He went on to make his international debut that year finishing 5th in the JM8 at the World Championships in Rio. The following year he was part of the top GB junior M4- that won a silver medal. He raced at the senior GB trials last month with Charlie Fisher finishing a strong 7th and was the top ranked U20 oarsman at Trials. Expect to see him make his U23 debut this year and senior representative honours in the very near future.
Verdict: another very tight contest, but O’Leary’s greater international experience just gives Oxford the edge.
Name: Oliver Cook
A graduate of the London School of Economics, Cook was the non-travelling spare for the GB Olympic team in 2016. He made his senior international debut in 2012 in the GB M8 that finished 5th at the European Championships. In 2013 he was again in the GB M8 that won gold at the World Cup in Eton and was a member of the Leander Club and Molesey composite that won the Ladies Plate at Henley Regatta and went on to finish 8th at the Lucerne World Cup. Last year he teamed up with Callum McBrierty and Henry Fieldman to win gold in the M2+ at the World Championships. He describes himself as the “perennial spare for the GB team” having been the spare throughout 2014-16. At the recent GB trials he paired with teammate (and former schoolmate) Vassilis Ragoussis finishing 10th (as an interesting little side note, at GB Trials Cook and Ragoussis raced as Isis whereas team mates Warr and Bugajski raced as Oxford University – this is because only those who have won a Blue can row as “Oxford University” otherwise it’s “Isis”).
Name: James Letten
Standing at 208cm, or 6ft 10in Letten becomes the tallest man ever to row in the Boat Race (beating by 1cm Olympic medallists Josh West and Paul Bennett). At 106.4kg he’s also the heaviest man in this year’s race. Letten is the 2nd Wisconsin graduate in the Light Blue boat and has been on the verge of breaking into the US U23 national team having been invited to final selection camps in the last two years. A “monster” on the erg, he is the current World Record holder in the 19-29 age bracket for the 10K. He also won the Indoor World Championships at the CRASH-B’s last year. If Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore has found a way of transferring that huge power into an effective boat mover (something Letten’s US coaches haven’t yet managed) then he could provide a massive engine to the Light Blue boat.
Verdict: despite his size and huge power, I’m giving this to the more experienced Ollie Cook of Oxford.
Name: Josh Bugajski
Another returning Blue, Bugajski raced for Great Britain at the 2012 U23 World Championships. A graduate of Cardiff University, he’s represented Wales at the Home International Regatta, winning gold in the M1X in 2015. At the senior GB trials last month he partnered William Warr finishing an excellent 6th. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Welshman make his senior international debut in the near future.
Name: Tim Tracey
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Tracey made his international debut in 2015 as part of the US U23 M4- that finished just outside of the medals at the World Championships. At the Head of the River 4’s last year he was part of the 2nd Goldie Elite 4+ that finished 4th in the division and 24th overall. He learnt to row as a “plebe walk on” at Navy becoming team Captain for the 2015-16 year. In 2016 his Navy crew finished 10th at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championships. In 2015 he was nominated for the USRowing Collegiate Athlete of the Year award.
Verdict: Tracey is a great oarsman and his international record is stronger than Bugajski, but the Welshman is in excellent form and his Tideway and Boat Race experience gives him the edge. Advantage Oxford.
Name: Olivier Siegelaar
The oldest man in the race, Siegelaar is one of the most experienced oarsmen ever to row in the Boat Race. With three Olympic appearances to his credit he raced in the Dutch M8 at the Beijing, London and Rio Olympics culminating in an outstanding bronze medal in Rio. He made his senior international debut in 2007 in the M4X and then the M2X at the start of the 2008 season before moving to the M8 for the Olympics. A bronze medal in the M8 at the 2009 World Championships was followed by a 4th place in 2010, 6th in 2011 and a 5th place finish at the London Games. After a break in 2013 he returned to international competition in 2014 picking up a silver in the M4- at the Lucerne World Cup and 4th at the World Championships. In 2016 he won gold at both the first and second world cups before finishing with a superb bronze medal at the Rio Olympics. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley with whom he won the IRA Championships in 2010.
Name: Aleksander Malowany
A graduate of the University of Washington, Malowany was the Canadian School’s M1X champion in 2011. He made two appearances for Canada at the World Junior Championships, both in the JM4X finishing 24th in 2010 and 11th in 2011. Whist at Washington he won the Freshman Varsity 8’s at the IRA’s 2012 and followed that up with a win in the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley. In his sophomore year he rowed in the UW 2nd Varsity winning both the PAC-12 and IRA Titles, a feat he repeated in his Junior year. In 2015 he rowed in the UW 4- at Henley that lost in the semi-finals of the Visitors Challenge Cup.
Verdict: advantage Oxford
Name: Michael DiSanto
This year’s Oxford President, DiSanto already has two Blue’s to his credit with wins in 2014 and 2015. He took time away from his studies in 2016 to row for the US national team racing in the 6 seat of the US M8 that finished 4th at the Rio Olympics. A Harvard graduate Di Santo had a highly successful rowing career making the Varsity 8 in his Sophmore year and winning the Ladies Plate at Henley. In 2011 he won the Eastern Sprints and finished 2nd at the IRA’s. He was made Captain in 2012 and rounded off his Harvard career with a bronze at the IRA’s. He made his International debut in 2011 finishing 6th in the M4- at the U23 World Championships. He won his first senior international vest in 2013 at the Lucerne World Cup before being selected for the M8 for the Rio Olympics.
Name: Patrick Eble
Eble started rowing in 2009 at the La sale High School in Pennsylvania. Whilst at High School he made two appearances for the US junior national team finishing 5th in the JM8 in both 2011 and 2012. After High School he went to Princeton and helped them win bronze at the IRA’s in 2015 (their first IRA medal since 2006). He followed this up with a 2nd bronze medal in 2016.
Verdict: A clear advantage for Oxford in this Harvard v Princeton battle.
Name: Jamie Cook
Younger brother to Oliver, Jamie is a returning Blue having won in 2015 and lost in 2016. He raced for the GB U23 team between 2012-2104 making the A-Final in all three of his appearances. He made his one and only (so far) senior appearance in 2013 at the Eton World Cup racing as the 2nd GB M2- finishing a superb 5th. In 2012 he won the Prince Albert Challenge Cup at Henley with the University of London and also won silver at the world University Championships that year. One of three Old Abingdonian’s in the Oxford crew, Cook won World Rowing’s Parmigiani Spirit Award in 2013.
Name: Lance Tredell
The 2nd returning Blue from last year’s winning crew, Tredell has a host of international honours to his credit. Unlike many of the other rowers in the race Tredell didn’t race at Junior or U23 level, instead he made his international debut in the senior team in 2012 racing the the GB M8 at the European Championships. In 2013 he raced for Great Britain at both the 1st and 2nd World Cups winning gold in Sydney. He was a member of the Leander Club/Molesey composite that won the Ladies Plate at Henley in 2013. He stroked the Cambridge Elite 4+ to victory at the Head of the River 4’s last year.
Verdict: this is really tight between two of GB’s most talented young rowers. I’m going to give it, just, to Cambridge.
Name: Vassilis Ragoussis
Vas is one of three Abingdon School alumni named in the Oxford boat (along with the Cook brothers). Whilst at Abingdon he was part of the outstanding crew that won the “Triple” (the School’s Head, The National Schools Regatta and the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley). He raced for GB as a junior in 2011 finishing 10th in the JM4-. After leaving school he went on to study at Boston University in America, winning bronze in the Junior Varsity event at the Eastern Sprints. In 2013 he won his 2nd Henley medal taking the Thames Cup with the Griffen Boat Club (the Abingdon School Alumni). He has his eyes set on senior international honours and raced with Ollie Cook at the GB Trials in February finishing 10th.
Name: Henry Meek
Aussie Meek is the 2nd Washington Huskie in the Cambridge boat. He started rowing at Geelong Grammar school and was a member of the Banks Rowing Club and Melbourne University crew that won the Fawley Challenge Cup at Henley in 2010. He followed this up with a win in the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley the following year as part of the Upper Yarra Rowing Club Crew (under the guidance of Alex Henshilwood). In his Freshman year at Washington he won his third straight Henley medal taking victory in the Temple Challenge Cup. His Freshman crew also won the PAC-12 and IRA Championships. In his Junior year he raced in the 1st Varsity 8 that won both the Pac-12 and IRA’s and beat the Polish national team in the semi-finals of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley before losing to the World Champion British crew in the final. In his senior year he won his 4th IRA title. He’s made one appearance for the Australian national team, taking silver in the U23 M8 in 2014 (in a crew made up entirely of US based athletes). He was part of the winning Head of the River 4’s crew in November, although spent time out of the boat earlier this year due to a back injury.
Verdict: Advantage Cambridge – Meek is an outstanding oarsman and was part of an outstanding Washington Huskies crew.
Name: Sam Collier
Collier coxed Isis in 2015 and was the Blue Boat cox in 2016. A Hampton School old boy, Collier coxed the GB Junior M4+ at the World Championships in 2013.
Name: Hugo Ramambason
The third Westminster School Alumni to cox in this year’s race (both coxes in the Women’s race after from Westminster. Ramambason wins his first Blue having coxed Goldie in both 2015 (where is was up against his opposite number Sam Collier) and again in 2016. Collier’s Isis got the better of his crew in 2015 and he’ll be desperate to get his own back.
Verdict: As a returning Blue (albeit a losing one) the advantage goes to Collier of Oxford.
So those are the crews, here are a few little stats…..
Crew weight averages: Oxford 90.2kg Cambridge 93.4kg
Crew height averages: Oxford 190.9cm Cambridge 194.4kg
Crew average age: Oxford 25 Cambridge 23
Nationalities: Oxford 3 (6 GB, 2 USA, 1 NED) Cambridge 4 (USA 4, GB 3, CAN 1, AUS 1)
Excluding the coxswains, there is only one Undergraduate in the race (Freddie Davidson of Cambridge).
There are more Americans in the race than were in the top three Varsity crews at the IRA Championships in 2016
6 of the Cambridge crew and 3 from Oxford were educated at American Universities.
Olivier Siegelaar of the Netherlands becomes the first triple Olympian to compete in the men’s race.
So who’s going to win? The build-up to the race has been fascinating. Cambridge definitely fared better when the two squads met at the Head of the River Fours with their top coxed boat beating the top Oxford boat. Both crews have raced Oxford Brookes, winners of the Head of the River and Temple Challenge Cup last year. In the two pieces against Cambridge the honours were even in the first but in the 2nd the Light Blues struggled in the rough water and went down by 2 lengths. Against Oxford it was Brookes who struggled in the rough allowing the Dark Blues to win the first piece comfortably. In the 2nd it was much closer with Oxford leading by ¾ length coming into the final stretch and just managing to hold off a late Brookes surge to win by a few seats. So, advantage Oxford. Cambridge raced Leander on home water in Ely a few weeks ago but there’s not been much information coming out from Ely about how it went. Oxford raced Leander this weekend dispatching them quite comfortably. Cambridge’s final fixture was against a strong (albeit scratch) Italian National squad boat containing all the top Italian oarsmen (including world and Olympic medallists). The first piece resulted in a narrow win for the visitors. The 2nd piece looked like it was going to be another close race until the Italians hit rough water and their lack of fitness began to tell allowing Cambridge to take 3 lengths off them in 90 seconds. This would have been a big morale booster for Steve Trapmore’s men, the Italians were a class outfit.
But, after all of the pre-race fixtures it’s definitely the Dark Blues who have emerged the stronger, although if I’m going to be critical I don’t think Bowden has quite gotten the best out of what is, on paper, an outstanding crew. But there’s still a few weeks to go to race day and Oxford have shown that they handle rough water well and have a huge amount of power. Cambridge’s fortunes have been a bit more mixed, and Trapmore will be under pressure to deliver a strong performance. With a record of 2 wins and 4 losses in his 6 years in charge, another defeat may see calls for changes in personnel. In my seat by seat comparison I have it 7-2 in the Dark Blues favour. Unfortunately for the Light Blues I’m going to go for a Dark Blue win by at least 3 lengths.