So that’s the Boat Races over for another year, and I must admit to a little bit of smugness that I called the correct result in all of the races, but to be honest in a two boat race it’s not that hard!
The women’s race went pretty much as expected. Right from the announcement of the various squads back in October it was clear that Rob Baker had a much stronger group to work with at Cambridge than Andy Nelder had at Oxford. It was perfectly possible to say then that, barring any disasters that Cambridge would be likely to win in March. On the day Oxford made a better contest of it than I was expecting but were no match for a very strong Cambridge outfit. Given the number of rowers in the Oxford boat that came through the Dark Blues development squad, or only learnt to row at Oxford there is encouraging signs that they are building a strong pathway, but it will take time and they still need to attract high quality candidates to study at Oxford that can lead and inspire those coming through the development programme.
The Women’s Boat Race is crying out for a close contest, since moving to the Tideway in 2015 (and all the associated media coverage), there has been huge disparities between the crews with margins of victory of 6 ½ lengths, 24 lengths, 11 lengths and 7 lengths, Compare that to the men’s race which has only seen margins over 6 lengths 7 times since 1980. To the connoisseur this is no bad thing, we can enjoy the high quality rowing that a dominant crew can display, but, for the casual observer it becomes boring and can lead to harsh and unfair criticism of the crews and the event. But, the Universities can only work with the talent they have and perhaps it’s not too surprising to see big margins when one squad is so much stronger than the other. I just hope next year we get a close(r) race!
Speaking of close races, I had been expecting one in the Men’s race, so the ease with which Cambridge demolished Oxford came as something of a surprise and, if I’m honest, a bit of a disappointment. In my previews I’d been predicting that this could be one of the closest races for years. Unlike the Women’s squads, the Men’s looked pretty evenly matched with some strong talent across the groups. The pre-race fixtures also hinted at two crews that were of similar speed. But, Oxford went through a huge upheaval in the week before the race with Josh Bugajski being dropped and 5 further changes to the seating order being made just a week before the race. A lot has been said about why Bugajski was dropped, the official line is that it had a bout of gastroenteritis and Aldous was brought in to cover. Bowden (and the rest of the crew) felt that the boat “was going fine” so they decided to keep Aldous in the crew. Bowden has since admitted that there were a number of disagreements between him and Bugajski (who don’t forget had 2 Blue Boat and 1 Isis appearances under his belt and was also the heaviest and most powerful member of the squad). So perhaps Bowden was looking for an excuse to drop what he saw as a potentially disruptive influence. For his part Bugajski made it plain that he was fully fit by attending the GB 2K trials and posting a sub-5:50 score. So, come race day Bowden’s decision to radically alter his crew would either be seen as inspired or desperate, unfortunately for the Dark Blue supporters it was the latter. Cambridge took the lead within the first few strokes and the race was effectively over as a competitive contest by the end of the Fulham Wall.
The resulting 3 length victory flatters Oxford somewhat, Cambridge perhaps should’ve won by more. But it is a great send off for Chief Coach Steve Trapmore who leaves Cambridge after being in charge for 8 races with a record of 3 & 5. But, crucially a number of the races that his crews lost were to significantly stronger Oxford squads, when he’s had a strong group to work with he’s produced winning crews and crews that row exceptionally well. He’s a much, much better coach than he sometimes is credited and it’ll be fascinating to see him develop at British Rowing.
In the reserve races it also pretty much went according to the script. Blondie for Cambridge were an outstanding boat and (as I said in my preview) were probably stronger than a number of the Blue Boats in the past, indeed there could be a case to say that this year’s Blondie crew were actually faster than the Oxford Blue Boat (it certainly would’ve been an interesting contest to see).
In the men’s reserves race Isis were always going to be on the back foot as the disruption to the Blue Boat also meant disruption to their line-up as they had to reshuffle to replace Aldous. But it still promised to be a competitive race. In the end Goldie dominated the race, taking 5 seconds off Isis by the Mile Post and then 2 more seconds by the finish. For Goldie this was their first win in 8 years and just their 2nd win in 11 races.
Add the lightweight Boat Races into the mix and you have a completely dominant display for the Light Blues, with Cambridge having won both Lightweight races and the men’s Lightweight reserves. Only the women’s Lightweight reserves race and the Veterans Boat Race went the way of the Dark Blues. This is the first time since 1993 that the Light Blues have won the Heavy and Lightweight Boat Races and both the Men’s and Women’s reserves races.
So Cambridge can end the campaign with champagne and celebration, and we wait to see who will take over from Trapmore, but for Oxford they have to lick their wounds and wait to see what the 2019 campaign will bring them.