Boat Race Preview: Let battle commence

10 March 2011

City Hall in London provided a spectacular new venue for a traditional event on Monday morning. Overlooking the River Thames, on which Oxford and Cambridge will go head-to-head in just over two weeks’ time in the 2011 Xchanging Boat Race, the crews were announced, introduced to the media, and weighed.

Speakers at the event included the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who addressed the assembled press with his customary bluster and charm, commenting that the physique of the athletes ensured they “would do very well if they were placed on special services in Libya,” before offering his support for his alma mater, Oxford. On a more serious note, he praised the race as “not just a great London event, not just a great national event, but a great international event.”

The Cambridge crew introduced at the weigh-in included three members of last year’s winning crew, and another three who rowed in 2010’s winning Goldie boat. The Oxford coach, Sean Bowden, acknowledged the superior experience of his opponents’ crew, but seemed undaunted: “We haven’t done anything so bad that makes it look like we’re definitely going to lose, and at the same time Cambridge haven’t done anything outstanding that makes it look like they’re definitely going to win.”

There is certainly pedigree throughout the Light Blue boat, however. At bow, Mike Thorp, one of four Brits in the Cambridge crew, rowed not only in Goldie last year, but has also won trophies with the GB men’s team and harbours ambitions to trial for the Olympic squad.

At two is last year’s Goldie stroke, Joel Jennings, while at three is Dan Rix-Standing, the youngest Cambridge rower, who participated in the Junior World Championships in 2008. Number four Hardy Cubasch, the heaviest man in either boat, is the fourth member of the crew with Boat Race experience, having tasted defeat rowing at six in 2009. He missed out on last year’s victory with a wrist injury, but recovered enough to partake in the Goldie win. He has represented Australia at junior, under-23, and senior level, taking silver in the under-23 World Championships in 2003 and winning at the 2005 World Championships in the coxed pair.

George Nash at five does know what it’s like to win the Boat Race, having rowed at three last year. He also won gold for GB in the coxless fours in the 2007 Junior World Championships and silver in the men’s four at the under-23 World Championships in 2010, and he too hopes to row in the Olympics one day. At six is Geoff Roth, who rowed at two in last year’s boat and has competed with the Canadian under-23 team.

The third and final member of last year’s winning crew remaining in this year’s boat is club president Derek Rasmussen, who retains his place at seven. During his speech at City Hall, he claimed the squad have had a productive year working under Steve Trapmore, and that the crew were “definitely confident.”

Stroke David Nelson, like many of his crew-mates, has international experience and Olympic ambitions; he represented Australia in the eights at the under-23 World Championships in 2005 and in the coxed four in 2009. The Cambridge crew will hope his experience can help him meet the considerable responsibility of stroking the Blue boat.

Steering Cambridge is 23-year-old Liz Box, last year’s winning Goldie cox, who beat Tom Fieldman to the seat following a rigorous trial process. She also coxed the successful Light Blue boat in the Lightweight Boat Race in 2009, and is the fourteenth female in history to be involved. Her opposite number, Sam Winter-Levy, at just 18, is one of the youngest coxes ever.

Cambridge weighed in as the slightly heavier boat, giving them an alleged advantage, although crew members and coaches on both sides will be quick to play this down as a significant factor. Cambridge will also have to ensure that talk of their superior experience does not cause complacency, even though only one member of Oxford’s crew, their number two Ben Myers, has rowed in the Boat Race before. As Oxford discovered last year, the ‘favourites’ tag means very little on race day.

Also, if experience is a factor, Light Blues coach Steve Trapmore, overseeing his first Boat Race campaign, has some way to go to catch his opposite number Bowden, who is spearheading his fourteenth, and will be chasing his eighth success. He told the media that it was “very exciting to be involved,” that he was confident that he had a “good bunch of guys”, and that he and his crew were “moulding their own way” under the new leadership.

On Tuesday, Cambridge continued their preparations, racing against a Molesley crew that Oxford had raced two weeks before. Comparing the two crews, Molesley coach Ben Lewis claimed it was “too close to call… I think Cambridge came out the blocks faster but Oxford may be stronger.”

It remains anyone’s guess as to what will happen when the 157th Boat Race begins at 17:00 on Saturday 26th March.

CAMBRIDGE

Bow: Mike Thorp

2 Joel Jennings

3: Dan Rix-Standing

4: Hardy Cubasch

5: George Nash

6: Geoff Roth

7: Derek Rasmussen

Stroke: David Nelson

Cox: Liz Box

OXFORD

Bow: Mortiz Hafner

2: Ben Myers

3: Alec Dent

4: Ben Ellison

5: Karl Hudspith

6: Constantine Louloudis

7: George Whittaker

Stroke: Simon Hislop

Cox: Sam Winter-Levy

Tom Smith – Sports Editor

Photo Credit: David Hardeman