The Boat Race: Insights from the Press Room

Image credit: Moni Zolczer

On the afternoon of Saturday 24th March, seven months of intense training, stressful crew selections, and hours both on and off the water will come down to 4 miles of Thames water. As the last week of training nearly draws to an end, the President, coxswain, and Chief Coach from both CUBC and CUWBC shed light on their training experiences, pre-race thoughts, and hopes for the big day.

The CUWBC crew have been in London since Friday 16th to train on the Tideway. Chief Coach Rob Baker highlighted the crew’s excitement about the lead-up to The Boat Race: “We always look forward to the week. With the increased attention brings a heightened focus and we actually perform better.” He emphasised that the women’s training has gone extremely well so far, with the long and tough outings making way for shorter rows in the last few days to practice race starts and short pieces. CUWBC’s coxswain Sophie Shapter reiterated the success and value of their training so far. “We know we’re well prepared,” she said. “And we’re really excited.”

The practice rows this week have proved invaluable as the crew has become comfortable racing side-by-side and reacting quickly to Sophie’s calls when walking down on their opponent. Sir Matthew Pinset, umpire for the CRUK Women’s Boat Race, confirmed that the women have overcome any initial anxiety or panic and that the cox can effectively navigate the Tideway. Even Katherine Erickson, OUWBC President and two seat in the Oxford Women’s Blue Boat, described Sophie as "a great coxswain".

Now, the women are in their last stage of fine-tuning as they hone the fundamentals, unity in particular. CUWBC President Daphne Martschenko stressed the importance of teamwork: “We all have great energy and we’re so supportive of each other.” Whilst energy levels and nerves are high, the team are looking forward to the race and aim to keep calm and composed – especially about the press attention. They are positive and hopeful for the CRUK Women’s Boat Race: Rob said that “we fancy our chances well”, though seven seat Myriam Goudet-Boukhatmi cautioned that “we try not to think about who are deemed favourites – we know we have good speed but anything can happen.”

The representatives from CUBC showed comparable positivity as the crew encounters the momentum of the week. Their Chief Coach Steve Trapmore emphasised that despite the recent adverse weather conditions, the rowers have remained focused and “removed any distractions”. Well aware that The Boat Race is the “culmination of the whole season”, Steve has challenged the oarsmen to cultivate a winning mentality. Such “internal momentum”, as Steve calls it, is what makes CUBC unique.

Hugo Ramambason, CUBC President and coxswain, elaborated on this point. Returning athletes from previous seasons have stepped into more leadership-style roles, guiding the newbies through the biggest week of their rowing career. The hard work put in by each individual has meant that come race day, the crew will be at peak race fitness. Having been tested by the wintery temperatures and unforgiving wind, CUBC’s confidence has grown in their sessions this week and it was clear that they were happy with their progress. In particular, the team has benefitted from the wealth of CUBC alumni experience as well as Steve’s expansive rowing and coaching experience – this is his eighth (and final) season.

Although there has been public speculation about OUBC’s crew shuffle this week, the Cambridge rowers remain focused on what they can control, and especially how they approach training sessions. Steve set the tone of level-headedness in the crew: “The only thing we can influence is training and how we build into the race. It’s just trying to maximise each day.” So, despite being labelled as favourites to win the CRUK Men’s Boat Race, the men will no doubt have their feet firmly on the ground. John Garrett, umpire for the Men’s Boat Race, predicts a good race on Saturday between the two well-prepared and ‘well-matched crews’.

Although training for The Boat Race have taken place largely out of public view, the excitement and interest in this mainstay of the Varsity calendar is mounting. The insights from the Presidents, Chief Coaches, and coxswains from CUBC and CUWBC present an optimistic and hopeful outcome for the two crews on Saturday. The long-term hard work and dedication of both teams will no doubt come to light at The Boat Race this weekend.

 

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