Following the look at the Women’s Boat Race squads it’s now time to look at the men’s squads.
Whilst the 2018 Women’s squads are quite diverse in their relative levels of experience, the men’s squads look much closer. It was first blood to Steve Trapmore’s men at the Head of the River Fours when his Light Blues captured both the Band 1 and Band 2 coxed four’s pennants. The top Cambridge boat finished 13 seconds ahead of their Dark Blue rivals, but more importantly for Trapmore is that his crews also placed 3rd and 4th with the next Oxford boat finishing 6th. All was not doom and gloom for Bowden though, as his top coxless four finished 2nd behind Leander and 26 seconds ahead of their Cambridge opponents. So, who is in the mix for the Blue Boat in March?
This year’s President is Hugo Ramambason, cox of the 2017 Blue Boat – he and Coach Steve Trapmore have an impressive line-up from which to build a crew, although this is the first crew since 2000 not to contain an athlete with senior international experience.
Some facts and figures:
Returning Blues: 4
Average age: 22
Nationalities: 4 (19 Brits, 6 Americans, 2 Dutch, 1 Italian)
Internationals: 4 (all at U23 level)
Despite not having any senior internationals, this year’s Cambridge squad has a number of very talented U23’s. One of the pick of these is Robert Hurn. Australian born Hurn was an undergraduate at Yale and rowed in their Varsity 8 throughout his four years, including wins in the Harvard v Yale race, the Eastern Sprints and the Ladies Plate at Henley. He raced for Great Britain at the 2016 and 2017 U23 World Championships winning a silver medal both times.
Another medal winning U23 is Dara Alizadeh from the USA. He rowed for Penn University and spent the 2017 season coaching at Winchester College in the UK (interestingly, one of his top charges, Tobias Schroeder, is a member of the Oxford squad – it’ll be fascinating to see if he lines up against one of his former coaches in March, not sure if that’s ever happened before). In 2015 Alizadeh was selected for the US U23 M8 and won silver behind the Germans.
A crewmate of Alizadeh’s from the 2015 US U23 M8 is Finn Meeks. He studied at Brown University and rowed in their Varsity 8 in 2015, 2016 and 2017 reaching the Grand Final of the IRA Championships each year. He also raced for Brown in the Ladies Plate at Henley this year losing to Molesey/London in the semi-finals.
The 4th U23 international in the Cambridge squad is Great Britain’s Freddie Davidson, he finished 6th in the U23 M2- at this year’s World Championships. He is aiming to win his 2nd Blue having rowed in the 2 seat of the 2017 crew. He’s also got a World Junior silver medal to his name and was a part of the outstanding St Pauls School crew that reached the final of the Princess Elizabeth at Henley in 2016. At the 2017 November GB trials he Hurn finished 4th, the fastest Goldie pair…but 14 seconds behind the winning pair from Oxford.
Another returning Blue is James Letten. He is a graduate of Wisconsin University having transferred from Villanova to pursue his rowing. He spent most of his time at Wisconsin in the 2nd Varsity 8 that finished 5th at the IRA’s in 2016. He’s got an impressive record on the erg having won the Crash-B’s in 2016 with a time of 5:49. He’s also the 19-29 year old world record holder for the 10K (31:43.1).
The 4th returning Blue is Charlie Fisher from Kings College School, Wimbledon– he raced in the winning 2016 crew and is this year’s Vice President.
As well as four returning Blues, Trapmore has four Goldie oarsmen, three of whom have raced in the reserves for two consecutive years. Patrick Elwood, from Broxbourne Rowing Club, was in both the 2016 and 2017 Goldie boats and is hoping it’ll be third time lucky to win a seat in the Blue Boat. The 2nd Goldie oarsman is Peter Rees who, like Elwood, was in the 2016 and 2017 Goldie boat will be hoping this year to win his Blue. The third returning Goldie oarsman is Piers Kasas who raced in the 2015 and 2016 reserve races. The final Goldie oarsman is Tom Strudwick who was in the 2017 Goldie boat. He was selected to race for Great Britain at the inaugural U23 European Championships this season coming away with a silver medal.
A strong contender for a seat in the Blue Boat is American Spencer Furey. The 23 year old is a graduate of Dartmouth College where he stroked the Varsity 8 which finished in the petitie final at the IRA’s and raced in the Ladies Plate at Henley. He sat in the 2 seat of the top Cambridge 4+ which won the Head of the River Fours (along with Finn Meeks, Rob Hurn and Freddie Davidson).
Another good contender for the Blue Boat is Dave Bell, the oldest man in either the Oxford or Cambridge Men’s squads. He’s a familiar name on the domestic rowing circuit and a member of Molesey Boat Club. He raced in the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley in 2014 and finished 4th in the February 2016 National Trials in the M1X and won the championship M1x at the Metropolitan Regatta and then the Champ 4X at Marlow Regatta. At the 2017 November GB trials he raced in a pair with club-mate Peter Rees finishing 21st (the 4th fastest Goldie pair).
Other newcomer to the squad is 6ft 7in Gerard Kuenning. He’s a Yale graduate and raced in the Bulldogs 2nd Varsity 8 that finished 5th at the Eastern Sprints.
Another athlete to watch is Riccardo Conti, the Italian was a member of the victorious Eton College crew that won the Princess Elizabeth at Henley in 2014 and competed for his college, Clare in the Temple Challenge Cup in 2016 and then the Thames Challenge Cup with Cantabrigian in 2017.
As mentioned above, Cambridge had an excellent day at the Head of the River Fours with their top boat of Spencer Furey, Bob Hurn, Finn Meeks and Freddie Davidson were the fastest coxed four with Tim Nugent, Sam Ringer, Jonty Page and Riccardo Conti winning Band 2 coxed fours. The 2nd and 3rd Band 1 coxed fours also did well finishing 3rd and 4th.
In the Trial 8’s this week Trapmore selected the following crews:
Bow: Dave Bell Robbie Harris
2: Peter Rees Piers Kasas
3: Callum Sullivan Thomas Strudwick
4: Reggie Mitchell Gerard Kuenning
5: James Letten Charlie Fisher
6: Dara Alizadeh Patrick Elwood
7: Spencer Furey Rob Hurn
Stroke: Freddie Davidson Finn Meeks
Cox: Hugh Spaughton Hugo Ramambason
The race was an absolute classic Trial 8’s contest, with the lead changing hands several times during the race with “Goblins” emerging as winners by just ½ length.
Returning Blues: 3
Average age: 22
Nationalities: 6 (18 Brits, 2 Americans, 2 Germans, 1 South African, 1 Italian)
This year’s President, Iain Mandale, has the most Boat Race experience of either squad, but is still yet to win a Blue. Instead he has 3 winning appearances for Isis in 2013 – 15. He made his international debut in 2014 winning a silver medal in the BLM4- at the U23 World Championships.
Mandale has three of the 2017 crew to call on, one of the strongest is Josh Bugajski who was also in the 2016 Blue Boat (and a stint in Isis in 2015). He learnt to row at Cardiff University and made his one and only international appearance in the U23 M4X in 2012. He’s been a regular trialist for Great Britain and at the GB trials last month he set the fastest 2K ergo of 5:45.5 and then took 3rd in the M1X time trial. It’s surely only a matter of time before Bugajski makes the senior GB team.
The 2nd returning Blue is the stroke of the 2017 Oxford Blue Boat, Vass Ragoussis. The former Abingdon school pupil took his undergraduate degree at Boston University where he rowed in the Varsity 8 that made the Grand Final at the IRA Championships in 2016.
The final returning Blue is old Etonian Will Geffen. He won his Blue in 2015 and then rowed for Isis in 2016.
As well as three returning Blues, Mandale has four more oarsmen with experience of racing for Isis. Benedict Aldous is another old Etonian, he has a junior World Championship medal to his name and was a member of the victorious Isis crew this year. He made headlines for the wrong reasons earlier this year when he was pictured at a fancy dress party dressed as a member of the Klu Klux Klan. – queue much outrage in the Daily Mail! The 2nd Isis oarsman in William Cahill. The South African learnt to row at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown and represented South Africa at the World University Games.
The next Isis oarsman is Germany’s Claas Georg Mertens. He stroked the 2017 Isis crew. It’s not often a World Champion appears in an Isis crew, but Mertens has a gold medal from the LM8 in 2015 ( and will remain the reigning LM8 World Champion as the event has now been dropped from the programme).
The 4th Isis oarsman is Tom Commins from the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe. He was stroke of the winning 2016 Isis crew.
The pick of the newcomers to this year’s squad is US Olympian Anders Weiss. He raced the M2- in Rio finishing 11th. He also raced the M2- at this year’s World Championships again finishing 11th. He’s a graduate of Brown University with whom he won two IRA medals. He’ll be expected to be a major part of the Oxford challenge for the 2018 race.
Another talented newcomer is Chris Wales. The Harvard graduate raced for the USA at the U23 World Championships in 2014 finishing 11th in the BLM2X. Whilst at Harvard he won a medal in the lightweight 4 at the IRA Championships.
Coach Sean Bowden also has two highly talented freshmen in his squad. Felix Drinkall of Eton and Tobias Schroeder of Winchester raced together as a M2- at the GB Trials last month taking 1st overall (14 seconds ahead of the nearest Goldie pair). Drinkall won gold in the JM4- at the Junior World Championships this year and Schroeder (the youngest athlete in either squad) took bronze in the JM8.
Schroeder is one of three Winchester College pupils in the Oxford squad, all of whom have raced in the Great Britain junior team. Luke Robinson was a crew mate of Schroeder’s in the JM8 in 2017 and Alexander Wythe raced in the JM2- in 2016.
The final athlete to mention is the sole Australian in the squad, Josh Combs. The 27 year old is a graduate of Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. He’s renowned as an awesome ergo monster and is the reigning World Record holder for the 5K Dynamic Erg for the 19-29 year old age group.
Sean Bowden has selected the following crews for the trial 8’s on Wednesday 6th December:
Bow: Jonathan Olandi Luke Robinson
2: Charles Buchanan Angus Forbes
3: Will Cahill Nicholas Elkington
4: Alexander Wythe Benedict Aldous
5: William Geffen Tobias Shcroeder
6: Anders Weiss Josh Bugajski
7: Iain Mandale Claas Mertens
Stroke: Vass Ragoussis Felix Drinkall
Cox: Zachary Thomas Johnson Anna Carbery
So those are the squads. Neither look to be significantly ahead of the other. Cambridge gained the early season bragging rights at the Head of the River Fours, but Oxford produced some excellent results at the GB Trials. Oxford have the greater international experience with the likes of Weiss and Bugajksi, but Cambridge have some outstanding U23 international oarsmen in their squad. It really is too close to call as to who will take the win in March and it’s going to be really interesting to see how the crews develop in the next few months.