I’ve finally found time to put “pen to paper” with some thoughts about the relative strengths of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race squads. They’ve made their first public appearances at the Head of the River Fours and, for the Brits at any rate, the GB Trials. First off it’s the women’s squads.
Cambridge won their first race since the event returned to the Tideway this year following two heavy defeats in 2015 and 2016. To be fair to those Cambridge crews their opponents from Oxford in 2015 were truly outstanding and in 2016 Cambridge struggled in the rough water and all but sank. But, in 2017 it was the Light Blues who had the stronger squad and they delivered a crushing 11 length victory and set a new course record. So, what does this year’s squad look like?
A few facts and figures…
Returning Blues: 3
Average age: 22.8
Nationalities: 4 (19 Brits, 7 Americans, 1 Irish, 1 German)
Coach Rob Baker and President Daphne Martschenko have an exciting group of athletes to work with. Martschenko is one of the two returning Blues and will be racing in her 3rd Boat Race. She suffered the ignominy of the crushing defeats of 2015 and 2016 but didn’t race in 2017. She’ll be looking to end her Cambridge career with a win. The 25 year old PhD student was a member of the US U23 W4X in 2012 and 2014 with a best result of 6th in 2012.
The standout name in this year’s Cambridge team is Olivia Coffey from the USA. She’s the only athlete in any of the University squads (men’s and women’s) to have won a senior World Championships gold medal having won the W4- title in 2013 and the W4X gold in 2015. The Harvard graduate has an outstanding record at world Championship level having made the podium each time she raced at either the U23 or Senior World Championships. She will surely be the first name on the team sheet.
Imogen Grant of Great Britain has a half-Blue from the Lightweight Boat Race and a full Blue from the Heavyweight Boat Races (losing as a lightweight in 2016 and then winning as a heavyweight in 2017). She made her international debut in 2017 as part of the GB U23 LW4X finishing 5th.
Another returning Blue is Alice White. She won a Junior World Championships bronze medal for New Zealand in 2011 before moving to the UK. She made her debut for the Great Britain team at the 2015 U23 World Championships taking a bronze medal.
One of the newcomers to the squad has one of the most famous names in Collegiate rowing – Abigail (known as Abba) Parker – daughter of the late, great Harry Parker the legendary Head Coach at Harvard. Abba attended Harvard and was a key member of the Radcliffe Varsity 8 winning gold at the Eastern Sprints.
Another athlete with a well-known rowing name is Eve Caroe – niece of RowPerfect’s Rebecca Caroe. Eve is no stranger to rowing in Cambridge having learnt her rowing at the town club Cantabrigian.
The 5th member of the squad with international experience is Olivia Jamrog from the USA. The Michigan graduate raced for the USA at the U23 World Championships in 2015 finishing 8th in the BLW4X.
Another Harvard graduate is Kelsey Barolak, she was a crew mate of Parker’s and was in the boat that won the Eastern sprints in 2015 and 2016 and was a trialist for the US U23 team.
The sole German in the squad is Paula Wesselmann. As a junior she won a number of medals at the German Championships and after school studied at Clemson University in the USA, racing in the Varsity 8 throughout her 4 year stay.
There are two returners from the 2017 Blondie crew, Lucy Pike and Rachel Elwood. They raced together as a W2- at the 2016 GB Trials winning the 1st Assessment.
At the Head of the River Fours Cambridge entered 6 crews, with the top W4+ of Martschenko, White, Coffey and Barolak taking the win 23 seconds ahead of their nearest Dark Blue rivals.
Returning Blues: 3
Average age: 24.5
Nationalities: 6 (13 Brits, 5 Americans, 1 Australian, 1 New Zealander, 1 Finn, 1 Netherlander)
Like his Light Blue counterpart, Oxford’s Coach Andy Nelder has 3 returning Blues – Jennifer Herbert, Alice Roberts and cox Eleanor Shearer. This year’s President, Katherine Erickson is a Stanford graduate but didn’t learn to row until she came to Oxford to read for a DPhil in History. In 2017’s race she competed for the Oxford reserves, Osiris going down to their Light Blue rivals by 13 lengths.
Jennifer Herbert was a member of the Penn University Varsity crew and raced for the United States at the U23 World Championships in 2013. In the 2017 Boat Race she stroked the Oxford Blue Boat to a disappointing 11 length defeat.
The 2nd returning Blue is Alice Roberts. She was the youngest member of the Blue Boat in the 2017 race and is, once again, the youngest member of the squad for the 2018 race. She’s an Oxford local having attended Cheney School in the city and took up rowing when the school introduced the sport in 2012 under the guidance of former world champion Peter Haining.
The 3rd returning Blue is the cox of the 2017 race Eleanor Shearer, the former Westminster School pupil will be wanting to erase the memories of the 11 length defeat she and her crew suffered in the 2017 race.
There is another rowing half-Blue in the squad, Rachel Anderson. She was a member of the losing Oxford Lightweight Boat in 2017
The pick of the newbies at Oxford is American Morgan McGovern. The 30 year old Georgetown graduate raced for the USA at the 2016 World Championships finishing 5th in the LW4X. At the 2015 USA Championships she came away with gold medals in the LW1X, LW2X and LW4X.
Another strong contender for a seat in the Blue Boat is American Maddy Goss. The Texas University graduate stroked the 2nd Varsity 4+ to victory at the 2017 Big 12 Championships.
Sara Kushma from New York is a Princeton graduate and whilst a Tiger she rowed in the 2nd Varsity 8 and also won gold in the Varsity 4+ at the EAWRC Championships.
There is one member of last year’s reserves, Osiris, trying for a seat in the Blue Boat, Beth Bridgeman. She performed well to be selected for Osiris in 2017 having only started rowing when she went up to St Hughes College. She’ll be hoping to use that experience to go one better in 2018 and gain a full Blue.
A newcomer with significant Tideway experience is Olivia Ambler. She learnt to row at Godolphin & Latymer School and then joined The Tideway Scullers School. As a member of the TSS she rowed for England at the Home International Regatta in 2016. She also raced for The Tideway Scullers at Henley Women’s Regatta last year winning the Intermediate Eights.
The oldest member of the squad is Sarah Payne Riches from New Zealand, she’s no stranger to the Tideway having completed a Masters degree at Imperial College. If she makes the Blue Boat she will become the oldest Blue in the history of the Boat Race.
So, on paper Cambridge look to have a much stronger squad with a double senior World Champion and four U23 Internationals against Oxford’s 1 lightweight international and 1 U23 international. Oxford also have a significant number of athletes in the squad who hadn’t rowed before going up. At the Head of the River Fours Oxford only entered 2 boats but they were both outgunned by Cambridge finishing over 1 minute behind the leading Light Blue Boat. Based on the strength in depth and experience of the Cambridge squad I have to pick them as the favourites – but there’s still a long way to go before the race starts at 4:31pm on Saturday 24th March.