The Boat Race: Cambridge v Oxford Preview

30 March 2013

One of the most famous rivalries in sport will resume tomorrow when the Light and Dark Blue boats go head to head on the recently flooded Thames for the 159th Varsity Boat Race. The sheer level of preparation has been arduous, with the Cambridge team spending the equivalent of two hours training for each of the approximate 600 strokes necessary to complete the four and a quarter mile course. Yet if Cambridge can win the title once again, every one of those early morning weights, ergo and water sessions will have been absolutely worth it.

The Light-Blues lead the overall standings by 81 to 76 but the racing has been interspersed with plenty of drama: six sinkings, an Oxford mutiny, a dead-heat and last year (Cambridge crew pictured above) an ‘anti-elitist’ swimmer in the river. If one thing is to be certain in 2013, it is that there will be no unexpected swimmers in the Thames, with a combination of new security arrangements and the perseverance of winter ensuring the dual risk of the royal marines and pneumonia. But last year’s Boat Race saboteur Trenton Oldfield may still be making an appearance; he is currently in discussion with the police about the possibility of a ‘peaceful protest.’

Analysis: The crews

With four London Olympians set to compete, the standard is as high as ever. For Oxford, 2011 winner Constantine Louloudis returns after stroking the bronze medal winning eight in the London Olympics, and will this time join forces with Canadian Malcolm Howard, who took a silver medal in that same race last summer.

For Cambridge, Club President George Nash also won an Olympic bronze (in the Men’s Pair) and returns for his third Boat Race attempt after victory in 2010 and defeat in 2011. Alongside him will be Milan Bruncvik – the Boat Race’s first participant from the Czech Republic – who competed in both Beijing and London after earlier winning the European Championship title.

While the unique physical and technical challenges of bends, currents and the clashes of oars has remained a constant since 1829, the international consistency of the crews is a more recent development. Apart from Nash, cox Henry Fieldman is the only other Briton in the Cambridge crew, and is sure to use all his local knowledge after being brought up on the Tideway. The rest of the team comprises four Americans and two Australians, three of whom – Steve Dudek, Alexander Scharp and stroke Niles Garratt – also competed last year.

Oxford are on average 2.65kg heavier than their Light-Blue opponents and, after an impressive victory over a German boat containing several Olympic champions, are the marginal favourites. The fact that they won the Women’s and Lightweight races in a 4-0 clean sweep last week will also give Oxford extra confidence. However, Cambridge’s preparations have also been solid. After losing to the University of Washington in February, they beat Molesey in their final warm up and cannot be written off.

Analysis: The weather

This week’s dramatic flooding along the Putney-Mortlake Championship course is likely to prove problematic. The river banks between Barnes and Putney pier have already been seriously flooded, and The Environment Agency has released an amber flood alert warning that further flooding is possible between Putney Embankment and Teddington Lock.

The unusually high tides are believed to be the result of melting snow, combined with the increased gravitational pull of the moon in early spring. The Putney embankment is a particularly popular spot for spectators, and now looks in jeopardy for tomorrow’s race.

The floods have so far left several cars underwater, with further damage likely to follow. The Cambridge team has already been affected; when the Thames burst its banks earlier this week, vehicles belonging to the Light Blues were partially submerged after being left near the river during training. The strong tides may well play a role in tomorrow’s race, given recent reports that debris caused by flooding has been seen obstructing part of the course.

This wintry cold-spell could not be more different from the lovely spring weather that greeted last year’s Boat Race. Fewer spectators may be willing to brave the cold, but hopefully the Cambridge support will be out in full strength, and inspire the Light-Blues to their first back-to-back victory since 1999.

The Cambridge team

Bow: Grant Wilson

2: Milan Bruncvik

3: Alexander Fleming

4: Ty Otto

5: George Nash

6: Steve Dudek

7: Alexander Scharp

Stroke: Niles Garratt

Cox: Henry Fieldman

The Oxford Team:

Bow: Patrick Close

2: Geordie Macleod

3: Alexander Davidson

4: Sam O’Connor

5: Paul Bennett

6: Karl Hudspith

7: Constantine Louloudis

Stroke: Malcolm Howard

Cox: Oscar Zorrilla

Story – Nick Butler – Sports News Editor

Photo – Olivia Lee