Crews reveal early form

13 November 2008

The first inter-collegiate race of the year on the river produced some good competition at the top end.

Rowed in boats of four rowers, unlike most races in Cambridge, the University Fours provides the first real insight into who will be the stronger and weaker colleges this year, and particularly who will take the prizes in Fairbairns at the start of December.

The men’s competitions started off with few surprises, although Fitzwilliam were the unexpected fastest on the first day, continuing their fine form from Easter term. Four strong crews (Fitz, Christ’s, Caius and First & Third Trinity) made their way through to the semi-finals in near-identical times, making close racing likely.

In the men’s coxless event, Lady Margaret (St John’s) comfortably beat a decent Jesus crew in the first round while First & Third surprised everyone (including themselves) by beating a good Clare boat. Both these crews triumphed again over fancied opposition in the semi-finals, LMBC setting a impressive time, to leave an intriguing final at stake.

In the women’s events, Christ’s, Downing, Jesus and First & Third continued their strength from the past year and put their top crews into the semi-finals, although Downing’s and Jesus’ second boats put up impressive fights against physically stronger opposition.

This year saw a change of format for finals: in most events, semi-finals and finals were raced on the same afternoon, really testing crews’ endurance to the limit. Thursday saw men’s finals, with the second division first up. Emma’s second boat beat Christ’s second boat by just 5 seconds and then went on to convincingly win the final – impressive for a club that had struggled at the end of last year.

In the first division, Fitz took a narrow victory over Christ’s, while First & Third and Caius dead-heated – a result neither wanted. Caius (unusually fast for this point in the year) triumphed in a short-course sprint re-row and promptly dead-heated again with Fitz in the final, but here the prize was shared! The men’s coxless final saw LMBC continue their form of earlier rounds, again showing their speed in the second half of the race to win easily.

In the women’s finals, First & Third and Downing appeared the strongest crews from times in earlier races. Downing took a clear 12-second victory over Christ’s but a powerful Jesus crew pushed First & Third all the way to the line, losing by just four seconds. Downing appeared the bigger crew and gradually extended their lead throughout the final to triumph.

In the second division, Christ’s and Emma second boats were neck-and-neck for over half the final – but as Emma started to move towards the lead, blades collided and Christ’s race was over, but Christ’s were off their station and so Emma were awarded the win.

So who looks strongest for Fairbairns? Both competitions are wide open, with Christ’s and First & Third promising quick eights on the men’s side, with Caius’ and Fitz’s other four rowers being unknown quantities.

Downing and Christ’s look strong on the women’s side, with First & Third not far behind. And never forget Jesus – they’re always strong and inevitably pull something out of the bag for what is their own race.