Cambridge Clean Sweep in Lightweight Boat Races

Sam Rhodes 9 April 2015

On a mild, but slightly overcast Easter Sunday, the first two of the Oxford-Cambridge boat races took place in Henley. There are six ‘Boat Races’ in total – the men and women’s openweight Blue Boats, the openweight reserve boats and the lightweights, in addition to the two inter-collegiate races between the fastest Oxford and Cambridge college crews.

This year, the Henley Boat Races featured the men’s and women’s lightweight crews, racing as CULRC and CUWBC Lightweights. The CUWBC lightweights are part of the same squad as the openweight athletes who will be racing on the Thames for the first time in history on April 11, and follow the same rigorous training program whilst ensuring that they ‘weigh in’ at no more than 59kg per athlete before racing commences. CULRC are a separate club and operate their own training program led by head coach Dan Janes. Their weigh in procedure is a little more complicated. The entire crew must average no more than 70kg, with no individual rower over 72.5kg.

After a short delay for the river to be cleared of traffic, the lightweight women’s race began. Oxford had the slightly faster start, going off at a higher rate and sneaking out to a marginal early lead, but as both crews came into their rhythm, Cambridge’s solid pattern began to pay off. Still slightly down just before Upper Thames Rowing Club (about 750m into the course and the traditional haunt for Oxford supporters), a big move called by cox Priya Crosby sent the light blues inching ahead of their opponents.

As the flag dropped marking the half way point, Cambridge were about half a length up on Oxford, maintaining a strong and powerful rhythm but not managing to break free of the dark blues. The pressure increased as the finish line drew ever nearer, the lines taken by the coxes became increasingly more aggressive and the umpire had to warn the boats apart to prevent a blade crash. In the final sprint for the line, Oxford upped their rate to 37, but Cambridge clung on, continuing to put power down at the lower rate of 34. The determined Oxford sprint had significantly narrowed the light blue lead, and both crews crossed the line with barely a pause between the finishing ‘beeps’.

The crews had to wait for confirmation of the result from the umpire. The official verdict was “Cambridge, three feet” – the closest margin since 1994 and testimony to the quality of racing. After three successive Oxford victories in the past three years by a cumulative total of over nine lengths, it can be hoped that this marks the beginning of a resurgence in Cambridge lightweight women’s rowing.

The final race of the day, between CULRC and OULRC was similarly exciting. Oxford took an early advantage after a quick start, but were soon reeled back by the light blues, who then pushed out to take the lead. Nevertheless, they never managed to break away from their dark blue opponents, resulting in yet another 2000m race of thrilling side-by-side competition. Daring coxing by both Alistair Nelson and Thomas Clode left little space between the blades. Both crews were repeatedly warned by the umpire and in the final few hundred metres, as Oxford moved on Cambridge in a nearly devastating sprint for the line, the blades clashed.

Once again, there was a wait for the official verdict before celebrations began, delayed slightly by a contest from Oxford with regards to the blade clash. However, the umpire declared the race to be valid. Cambridge won by a margin of four feet.  

The races on Sunday have proved that despite not having the media attention of the heavyweight races in London, the Oxbridge lightweight crews have it in them to produce fantastically close racing and will hopefully set the trend for the heavier athletes to continue the light blue winning streak.

 

CUWBC Lightweights:

Cox: Priya Crosby

Stroke: Ella Barnard

7: Emma Clifton

6: Cath Aitchison

5: Kirsten Van Fossen

4: Emma Walker

3: Christina Ostacchini

2: Tricia Smith

Bow: Sarah Lucas

 

Coach: Nick Acock

 

CULRC:

Cox: Alistair Nelson

Stroke: Tom Chess

7: Raffaele Russo

6: Archie Wood

5: Charlie Cullen

4: Lawrence Clare

3: Moritz Matthey

2: Tom Wileman

Bow: Tim Rademacher

 

Coach: Dan Janes