This week saw the formal announcement of the crews to represent Oxford and Cambridge Universities in the men’s and women’s Boat Races on April 7th. As in previous year’s here is my seat by seat comparison of the crews. First up, the men.
Name: Dave Bell
Dave “The People’s Champion” Bell, raced in the successful Goldie crew last year and has been a stalwart of the domestic rowing circuit for a number of years. More renowned as a sculler, the Molesey man won gold in the M1X at Marlow Regatta back in 2016 and made the main draw at Henley that year.
Name: Achim Harzheim
Harzheim is a graduate of Harvard and was a member of the highly successful 2ndVarsity crew that went undefeated in 2016, taking wins over Yale and gold at the Eastern Sprints and the IRA Championships.
Not a lot to choose between these two, but I think Harzheim for Oxford just has the edge
Name: James Cracknell
All the media attention is on Cracknell, at 46 he becomes the oldest person ever to compete in the race (by some margin). With two Olympic golds and six World Championship titles to his name he’s also the most decorated man to row in the race. It’s testimony to his longevity that he was even a part of the squad, let alone securing a seat in the Blue Boat. But, for a man who has rowed the Atlantic, trekked to the North Pole, run the Marathon De Sables and has run a sub 2:45 marathon the Boat Race is just one more challenge for the adventurer. The challenge he also faces is to make sure he’s still in the boat come race day. He’s struggled with injuries this season and there’s no escaping the fact that at his age it will take careful management to ensure his body remains up to the challenge.
Name: Ben Landis
The 2nd German in the Oxford boat is another US educated athlete, Benjamin Landis. He rowed for the outstanding Columbia University Lightweights and whilst at school won bronze at the German National championships in 2010 and 2012.
Verdict: Cracknell is not only an excellent athlete, he also brings a wealth of experience to the Cambridge Blue Boat – advantage Light Blues.
Name: Grant Bitler
Bitler learned to row at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Massachusetts before going to college at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Whilst at Brown in his Junior year he raced in the Varsity boat that made the Grand Final at the IRA Championships and went on to reach the semi-final of the Ladies Plate in the same year. In his senior year he rowed 7 in the 2ndVarsity crew that finished 7that the IRA’s.
Name: Patrick Sullivan
Sullivan will be very familiar with the Tideway having spent three years rowing for the University of London. Whilst at UL he made the Grand Final of the Senior British Championships in both the M8 and M4- in 2016 and finished 3rdin Champ Eights at Marlow Regatta in 2017. A strong performance in GB Trials saw him selected for the GB for the U23 World Championships in Plovdiv where he picked up a silver medal in the BM4+
Verdict: another seat where there isn’t too much to choose between the two. Bitler’s experience of match racing whilst at Brown will be crucial on the Tideway, but Sullivan’s Tideway experience and international pedigree just gives the Dark Blues the edge.
Name: Dara Alizadeh
This year’s President, Alizadeh is one of only two returning Blues from last year’s victorious men’s Blue Boat. He’s a graduate of Penn University where he rowed in the Varsity 8. In 2015 he was selected for the US U23 team winning a silver medal in the BM8 at the world Championships. After graduating he spent a year coaching at Winchester College in the UK where one of his charges was Tobias Schroder, who lines up against his former coach in the 5 seat of the Dark Blue Boat.
Name: Benedict Aldous
Aldous is one of two returning Blues from the losing 2018 crew. His first Blue came in somewhat controversial circumstances when the originally selected crew man, Josh Bugajski, was dropped a few days before the race after falling out with Coach Sean Bowden. This year, old-Etonian Aldous, wins his place by right. A Junior World championship medallist, he was a member of the Eton 1stVIII in 2015 that reached the Friday of the Princess Elizabeth at Henley.
Verdict: Cambridge have the upper hand here with Alizadeh an experienced U23 international and with one Boat Race win already under his belt.
Name: Callum Sullivan
The youngest man in the Cambridge crew, Sullivan learnt to row in East London at Globe Rowing Club as part of the London Youth Rowing Initiative. He went up to Cambridge for the 2018 academic year to read Music. He narrowly missed out on selection for the Blue Boat but did make Goldie, helping the Cambridge reserves to a 2.5 length victory. He went on to row for Goldie in the Prince Albert at Henley narrowly losing to Imperial in the final. At the 2018 British Championships Sullivan was selected for the top Cambridge 4 that won gold.
Name: Tobias Schroder
The youngest man in the race (he’s 3 weeks younger than his opposite number), Schroder learnt his rowing at Winchester College (where he was coached by Cambridge President Alizadeh). He was selected for the GB Junior team in 2017 taking a bronze medal in in the JM8. After an outstanding performance in the 1stGB trials in 2018 (which he won with crewmate Felix Drinkall) he was selected for the British U23 team and finished 5thin the BM4+ at the Poznan World Championships.
Verdict: two outstanding young oarsmen, from very different backgrounds. I think this one is too difficult to call – a draw.
Name: Sam Hookway
The University of Melbourne graduate won bronze in the U23 M8 in 2012 and made his senior debut in 2014 rowing at the 1st World Cup in Sydney, finishing 4th in an Australian 2nd 8, before moving into the 1st 8 for the Lucerne World Cup and the Aigubelette World Championships (where the Australians finished 9th). He looked set to win a place in the Rio Olympic team, but decided instead to continue his medical studies. Those studies now bring him to Cambridge where he is reading for an MPhil in Medical Science.
Name: Felix Drinkall
Drinkall is the first undergraduate President at OUBC since Stan Louloudis in 2015. The Old-Etonian made the Blue Boat at his first attempt as a Freshman in 2018, and now steps up to lead the Club as President. He’s one of the most exciting young oarsmen in Britain at the moment. He won gold in the JM4- at the Junior World Championships in 2017 and followed that up with a silver medal at the U23 World Championships in 2018. At the November GB Trials he produced the fastest U20 2K erg and placed 3rd overall in the 5K M2- Time Trial with partner Tobias Schroder making them the fastest U23 pair by 8 seconds ahead of the top Cambridge pair.
Verdict: Drinkall is an outstanding prospect, but Hookway is just as outstanding, and has significant senior international experience to back him up. Advantage Cambridge.
Name: Freddie Davidson
The other returning Blue from the 2018 race is Freddie Davidson, stroke of the 2018 boat. Davidson is the grandson of Alistair Davidson who won a silver in the M8 at the Commonwealth Games in 1954. A former pupil of St Paul’s School Hammersmith, Davidson junior learnt his rowing on the Tideway. He followed-up his victory in the Boat Race with selection for the Great Britain U23 team, winning a silver medal in the M8 at the World Championships in Poznan. So far this season he guided Cambridge’s top 4- to victory at the British Championships in October and finished 6th in the M2- at the November British Team Trials (partnering Callum Sullivan).
Name: Charlie Pearson
Pearson was a crew-mate of Drinkall in the 2016 GB JM8 that won bronze at the Junior World Championships and then the Eton 1stVIII that reached the semi-finals of the Princess Elizabeth at Henley in 2017. Pearson was in the victorious top Oxford boat at the Head of the River Fours in November.
Verdict: In the crucial 7 seat it’s the Light Blues that have the edge, Davidson already has a winning Blue to his credit and knows the Tideway extremely well.
Name: Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk
Whilst all the media attention is one the selection of James Cracknell to the Light Blue Boat, it’s probably Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk who is the outstanding oarsman in the race. The 24 year old Pole already has three World Championship and one Olympic appearance to his credit, taking 7th in the M1X at the Rio Olympics and also at the 2017 World Championships and 8th at the Worlds in 2018. He’s also won a host of age group medals, winning Junior World gold in 2013 and U23 silver in 2014 and 2016 and bronze in 2015 and 2017. His undergraduate studies took him to the University of California, Berkeley where he was named 2017 Scholar Athlete of the Year. During his time at Cal he won the IRA Championships in 2016 and won the Head of Charles (breaking the course record in the process).
Name: Augustin Wambersie
Another US educated athlete is Belgian Augustin Wambersie. He raced at the Junior World Championships in 2014 before going up to Princeton University. As a Senior he was co-captain and raced in the Varsity 4 that finished 5th at the IRA Championships. In 2018 he raced in the top Oxford crew at the British Championships and Head of the River Fours. He’s the first Belgian to row in the men’s race.
Verdict: a clear advantage for the Light Blues.
Name: Matt Holland
Holland coxed the victorious Cambridge women’s Blue Boat in 2017 and is one of a small band of coxes that have steered both a men’s and women’s Blue Boat.
Name: Anna Carbery
Carbery narrowly missed out on winning a Blue in 2018, but instead steered the losing Isis crew in the reserve race.
Verdict: Another advantage for the Light Blues.
Summary: it’s been slightly frustrating this year that the planned fixtures against Oxford Brookes fell afoul of the weather, but the form book suggests that Cambridge will be the strong favourites to take the win on April 7th. Coach Rob Baker has an outstanding group of oarsmen in his crew with senior international experience in the bows and stern. As in 2018, Oxford look to be a strong, young crew (they average 4 years younger than their Light Blue counterparts – Cambridge have 4 members of the crew over 25 compared to Oxford’s 2), but the potential in the Light Blue boat (if they all stay fit and healthy) makes it one of the most exciting Blue Boats for many years. Cambridge to win.