With less than 4 weeks to go until the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races the formalities of the crew announcement took place today. So that means it’s time for me to have a close look at the various crews that will represent the two Universities in one of the oldest annual sporting contest in the world and do a seat-by-seat comparison.
First of all the men’s crews.
Name: Patrick Elwood
Elwood learnt his rowing at Broxbourne Rowing Club in Essex. Reading for a PhD in Astrophysics he was a member of the losing Goldie crews in 2016 and 2017. Now he finally wins a seat in the Blue Boat and will be looking for his first victory over the Championship course.
Name: Iain Mandale (President)
The Oxford President already has three race wins to his credit racing for Isis in 2013-15. Now reading for an MBA he is set to win his first Blue. He learnt his rowing at Kingston Grammar School and rowed for Great Britain at the U23 World Championships winning a silver medal in the BLM4- in 2014.
Verdict: a narrow advantage to Oxford, two members of the reserves now stepping up to the Blue Boat. Mandale has the edge with his three reserve wins and his international experience
Name: Charlie Fisher
A member of the winning 2016 Cambridge crew, Fisher missed out on a Blue last season and raced in the losing Goldie crew. He learnt to row at Kings’ College Wimbledon and represented Great Britain at the Coupe De La Jeunesse in 2012 winning a gold medal in the JM8.
Name: Felix Drinkall
The youngest man in the race, and the only undergraduate in the Dark Blue boat, Drinkall is an outstanding young oarsman. The old-Etonian won a bronze medal at the junior world championships in 2016 in the JM8 and followed that up with a gold in the JM4- in 2017. At the first GB trial in November he and partner Tobias Schroeder took the overall win in the 5K time trial (14 seconds ahead of the fastest Cambridge pair).
Verdict: Fisher has greater experience of the Boat Race, which can be crucial in a tight race, but Drinkall is an outstanding young oarsman. I reckon this is even.
Name: Dara Alizadeh
A graduate of Penn University, Alizadeh learnt to row at Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts. In 2015 he made his international debut racing for the USA in the M8 at the U23 World Championships coming away with a silver medal. He spent the 2017 season coaching and teaching Economics at Winchester College.
Name: William Cahill
Nationality: South African
Cahill raced in the victorious Isis crew in 2017 and is a graduate of the University of Cape Town. He has international representative honours having raced for South Africa at the World University Games.
Verdict: A narrow advantage to Cambridge. Cahill of Oxford has the advantage of having raced over the Championship course last year as a reserve, but Alizadeh’s greater international experience just gives him the edge.
Name: James Letten
The heaviest man in this year’s race and also the tallest man ever to row in the Boat Race, Letten is set to win his 2nd Blue having been a member of the losing Cambridge crew last year. The University of Wisconsin graduate represented the USA at the World University Games in 2013 sitting in the 5 seat of the M8 that finished 6th.
Name: Anders Weiss
The most experienced man in the Oxford boat in terms of international experience, Weiss raced for the USA at the 2013 U23 World Championships winning a silver medal in the M8. He made his senior international debut at the Rio Olympic Games where he partnered Nareg Guregian to an 11th place finish in the M2-. He raced the same event at the Sarasota World Championships last season, this time partnered by Michael Colella, again taking 11th place. A “Walk-On” at Brown University he helped them to a strong 3rd place at the IRA Championships.
Verdict: In this battle of the Americans its advantage to the Dark Blues. Letten has the advantage of a Boat Race campaign already under his belt, but Weiss is a seasoned international which gives him the edge.
Name: Spencer Furey
The 3rd American in the Cambridge boat, Furey is a graduate of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Whilst at the “Big Green” he stroked the Varsity 8 that finished 9th at the IRA Championships last year. Dartmouth also made the trip to Henley Royal Regatta last season to race in the Ladies Plate narrowly losing to the German U23’s from Bayer Leverkusen in the first round.
Name: Will Geffen
Geffen is one of three returning Dark Blues, although he won his Blue as part of the outstanding Oxford boat of 2015. He also has a winning appearance with Isis in 2016. He learnt to row at Eton and in 2013 he raced for GB at the Junior World Championships finishing 6th in the JM4+.
Verdict: I’m going to call this as evens, Furey has the experience of match racing from his days at Dartmouth, but Geffen already has one Boat Race win to his credit and knows what it takes to win.
Name: Finn Meeks
The fourth member of the All-American engine-room of the Cambridge boat, Meeks was a crewmate of Alizadeh’s in the US U23 M8 that won silver in 2015. He was also a crewmate of Anders Weiss whilst at Brown. He sat in the bow seat of the Varsity eight in the 2014-15 season with Weiss in 5 seat that finished 4th at the IRA’s. He then went on to stroke the Brown varsity crew in 2016 and 2017 that made the IRA Grand Finals and last year raced in the Ladies Plate at Henley losing to the GB U23 crew (racing as Molesey & London) in the semi-finals.
Name: Josh Bugajski
The heaviest man in the Oxford boat, and the 2nd of 3 returning Blues. Bugajski is set to win his 3rd Blue and has one win and one loss to his name. He made his international debut for Great Britain at the U23 World Championships in 2012 finishing 11th in the BM4X. He’s competed at the recent GB Trials this season finishing 3rd in the M1X in the 1st Assessment, 9th in the M2- at the 2nd Trials and 7th at the 3rd Trials (partnering Matt Tarrant). He also rowed with Oxford Brookes at Henley last season winning the Ladies Plate. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Bugajski make his (long overdue) senior debut between now and the Tokyo Olympics.
Verdict: another really close battle with two outstanding oarsmen. But, with 2 Blues to his name the advantage is (just) with the Dark Blues.
Name: Rob Hurn
Hurn started his rowing career in Australia and represented that nation at the Junior World Championships in 2012 and 2013. He attended Yale University reading Physics and was a member of the outstanding Varsity crew that won the Harvard-Yale race in 2015 and the Head of the Charles and the Ladies Plate at Henley in 2016. He made his debut for Great Britain in 2016 winning silver in the U23 M8 and another silver in the U23 M4- last year. He’s raced at the first 2 GB Senior Trials this season finishing 3rd in the M2- at the 2nd Assessment with fellow Yale oarsman Sholto Carnegie. He’s another oarsman who could well make his senior international debut during this Olympiad.
Name: Claas Georg Mertens
The smallest and lightest rower in the race (he’s actually 2cm shorter than the Dark Blue’s cox), the German made his international debut in 2012 with a bronze medal in the U23 LM4X. He followed this up by making his senior debut the same year with a 5th place in the LM4X. After finishing 12th in the BLM1X in 2013 he switched to sweep finishing 4th in the BLM4- and then won senior World Championship gold in the last ever LM8 race.
Verdict: yet another close thing. Hurn has age-group World Championship medals and was an integral part of the outstanding Yale Varsity boat. Mertens is a senior World Champion and has the tenacity and fight of an outstanding lightweight. I’m going to say Cambridge just have the edge.
Name: Freddie Davidson
The youngest man in the Cambridge boat and Coach Steve Trapmore has entrusted him with the crucial stroke seat. Davidson is no stranger to the Boat Race having won a Blue in the 2 seat of the 2017 crew. He’s no stranger to the Tideway having learnt to row at St Pauls’ School. He’s one of the most outstanding young oarsmen in the country having made his international debut stroking the GB JM8 in 2015 and then winning a silver in the JM4- in 2016. In 2017 he stepped up to the British U23 team finishing 6th in the BM2-
Name: Vassilis Ragoussis
The 3rd returning Blue, Ragoussis retains the seat he occupied for last year’s race. The former Abingdon School pupil studied for his undergraduate degree at Boston University in the USA. Whilst at Abingdon he won the Princess Elizabeth at Henley in 2011 and then the Thames Challenge Cup with the Abingdon alumni crew, Griffen, in 2013. Whilst at Boston he raced in the Varsity 8 in several match races including wins against Wisconsin, Dartmouth and Northeastern. At the 3rd GB Trials this season he partnered three-time Olympic champion, Pete Reed, finishing 14th.
Verdict: Ragoussis finished 9 places ahead of Davidson at the recent British trials and I think he will have the edge over his younger rival. The Oxford man also has experience of stroking a winning Blue Boat which could be crucial.
Name: Hugo Ramambason (President)
This year’s President, Ramambason steered the Goldie crew in 2015 and 2016 and then stepped up to the Blue Boat in 2017. He’s yet to taste victory over the Championship course, but, along with Chief Coach Steve Trapmore, has constructed an excellent crew with a huge amount of potential, and one that could just deliver that first win.
Name: Zachary Thomas Johnson
Captain of Coxes at Lady Margaret Hall, Thomas Johnson, reading Musicology, beat off Anna Carbery (cox of the Pembroke 1st 8) to secure the Blue Boat seat.
Verdict: A clear advantage to the Light Blues, with Ramambason already having significant Boat Race experience.
So, that’s the men’s crew. I’ve picked Oxford ahead in 4 seats with Cambridge ahead in 3 and 2 evens. By that reckoning the Dark Blues should have the edge, but, as a unit Cambridge look to be the stronger. Oxford’s defeat to their neighbours, Oxford Brookes, will not have done Coach Sean Bowden any favours. Cambridge take on Brookes this weekend and that will give a “proper” comparative assessment. So, despite picking the Dark Blues just ahead in a seat-by-seat comparison, I’m going to go for a Light Blue victory. But, I think it could be very close, possibly one of the closest for many years.