Oxford put in an incredible performance to defeat pre-race favourites Cambridge convincingly in the 2011 Xchanging Boat Race on the Thames on Saturday. The Dark Blues looked more powerful and tidy than their opponents from start to finish and made their victory by four lengths appear easy.
The omens were good for Oxford in the build-up to the race, as their crews won the spares and veterans races on Friday, and then their reserve boat Isis beat Cambridge counterparts Goldie by six lengths just before the main event. Oxford captain Ben Myers also won the toss, opting to row on the Surrey station and thus giving his crew the advantage on the large bend in the middle of the course. This was a decision that seemed to pay dividends for his crew in dramatic fashion.
The Light Blues gained a slight advantage from the start, setting a stroke rate of 47 to their opponent’s 46, but from then on, it was all Oxford, and within the first minute they edged ahead, managing to keep Cambridge at bay even round the first bend, on which they were supposed to be at a disadvantage. The crews moved very close together at this stage, clashing oars frequently in a manner which prevented the Light Blues from finding a solid rhythm. Oxford were twice warned by the umpire, but reached the Mile Post with a one second advantage.
From there, the Dark Blues pushed on, opening up a two-length lead very rapidly between the Mile Post and Harrods, and for them there was no looking back. Much was made of the different approaches to training taken by the two crews in the build-up to the race, and the discipline and efficiency instilled by Oxford coach Sean Bowden seemed to pay off as Cambridge crumbled, looking untidy and somewhat shell-shocked as they desperately searched for a way back into the race. Oxford had been in a similar position in the 2010 race and had gone on to lose, so all was not lost for the Light Blues but, in truth, this time round Steve Trapmore’s men never looked like they were going to overhaul the deficit. The Dark Blues, as they perhaps should have done last year, utilised their commanding position to great effect, and were able to pick the optimum racing line without any trouble from their opponents.
The stroke rates were similar, but Oxford’s superior power and rhythm was evident throughout, and their huge lead gave them a significant psychological advantage, while for Cambridge the gap just would not close. The Dark Blues had an eight-second lead as they reached the crowds lining the banks before the finish at Chiswick Bridge, and pushed on with the knowledge that the end was in sight. They ultimately romped home to victory by a margin of fourteen seconds, in a time of seventeen minutes and thirty-two seconds.
As ever with the Boat Race, there was joy unconfined for the victors and utter dejection for the losers as six months of intense training was vindicated or rendered worthless within twenty torturous minutes. Sam Winter-Levy, the youngest Boat Race cox in a century, was thrown into the Thames by his ecstatic team-mates as Oxford celebrated their eighth Boat Race win in twelve years and sweet revenge following their defeat by the Light Blue underdogs last year. The Cambridge crew meanwhile scuttled quickly away, left devastated and stunned by their defeat, which was both unexpected and crushing.
For Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore, the rebuilding work will have to start here. His approach, including his decision to break with tradition by utilising a new boat shell, unfortunately did not pay off in his first year as Light Blue coach. This experience will no doubt have proven a harsh learning curve for him as he begins to look towards the 158th Boat Race in 2012.
Tom Smith – Sports Editor