Today saw the four Boat Race crews and two umpires face the media in the annual press conferences.
Hosted in the media centre at Thames Rowing Club, the Head Coach, President and Cox of each squad took questions from the press ahead of this Sunday’s Races. Cambridge University Boat Club were first to field the questions, with Steve Trapmore, Lance Tredell and Hugo Ramambason the respective representatives.
Tredell, who will be competing in his second Boat Race after winning last year, was asked how Cambridge were planning to record consecutive victories for the first time in over a decade. “We’re aware of the history and we’re also focused on the processes which can start the dominant period for Cambridge” he said.
The 28-year-old was also questioned on how useful it is to have already experienced the program. “Obviously, it does help that I’ve been through the process and I understand the unique challenges that such a race presents,” he explained. “However, we prepare specifically for each year. When I sat on the start-line last year, I’d never felt better prepared for a race. We will be even better this time around.”
Trapmore, who recorded only his second win as Head Coach of Cambridge last year, was asked where he thinks the race will be won and lost. “In every day of training leading up to this point,” was his short response. “We know that there’s another team trying to improve too, but we can only control our own processes. The guys understand the challenge and we realise Oxford have a really strong crew but we’re focused on our own preparation and plan.”
Ramambason, who will be in the driving seat for his first Boat Race after unseating three-times Blue Ian Middleton, spoke of his mind-set ahead of Sunday. “It’s good to be nervous and it doesn’t scare me,” he said. “We’ve spent seven months training and we know what we need to do to hit our rhythm and win the race.”
The presence of former Cambridge oarsman William Warr in the Oxford crew has sparked some media interest and the subject was raised. Ramambason said: “We haven’t spoken to Will very much. After the race, I’m sure people will be friends again but for now it’s all about our preparation and we can’t let anything or anyone affect that.”
Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club were next to face the media, with Rob Baker, Ashton Brown and Matthew Holland representing the club as Head Coach, President and Cox respectively.
CUWBC are looking to overturn a run of wins for Oxford stretching back to 2012 and Baker was asked about the impact of that on his preparation. “We don’t really think about the last couple of years. You use previous experiences to shape the current program and to decide on how best to develop the athletes you’ve got but we don’t let it dictate our process. The really special thing about this crew is the way in which every single person has totally bought into the project.”
Brown, who is in her third year with Cambridge, was in the boat which ran into trouble underneath Barnes Bridge last year and she subsequently contracted pneumonia as a result. “I did get quite ill after last year,” she conceded. “A few weeks after the race, I was having trouble breathing so I went to A&E and they told me I had pneumonia. I didn’t properly recover until the following September when I re-joined the trialling process.”
Holland, who previously coxed Westminster School to national gold at schoolboy level, was questioned on the idea of now working alongside women instead of men. “It’s been a new challenge,” he explained. “The energy has been fantastic all year. It’s made my job a lot easier to be honest. The moment the boat touches the water, they’re committed and they’re yours. The determination has been extraordinary. There’s been times when the rain is frozen to your eyelashes but that’s when they push on and that’s remarkable.”
Shortly after, Oxford University Women’s Boat Club sat down to discuss events with the press. They were represented by Ali Williams, Head Coach, Dr. Isabell Von Loga, President, Harriet Austin, Captain, and Eleanor Shearer as Cox. Dr. Von Loga was voted in as President for the 2017 campaign, before dropping out of the process through injury. She has remained in her official position to support and guide the OUWBC athletes.
Williams, who is in her first year as Head Coach, was asked about the new challenge after a summer of upheaval for the squad. “There’ve been a lot of changes in our program,” she said. “It’s taken a little while to embed everything we’ve been looking for but the last few weeks have come together really well. Obviously, we’ve had to rebuild after last year and that has taken time and effort. We do what we can each day to put the boat together but that doesn’t change our objective, which is to win the race.”
Dr. Von Loga was asked about her unique role in the lead up to this year’s race. “It wasn’t part of the plan to be injured,” she laughed. “I do this to row not to be the president, of course. However, there is definitely a silver lining to it and it’s that I can now act and speak objectively as a link between the athletes and the coaches.”
Asked whether she believed it to be an advantage, she said: “I think it could be, yes. I’d love to be able to contribute with my legs not just my head though.”
Austin, who is in her first year with Oxford, was questioned about the psychology of dealing with a legacy of success. “Each year is a new one,” she returned. “We’ve got no returning Blues, but it’s good to have a wide range of athletes coming in from all over the world. We’ve also got a really strong contingent from last year’s Osiris crew and that experience will be valuable on race day.”
Shearer, who will also steer her first Blue Boat, has previously admitted to having a friendship with the cox of the Cambridge crew. She was asked about whether the competitive side of the men’s race, which was so apparent at the weigh-in, translated across to the women. “Our crew has a lot of personal connections with Cambridge. I personally know the Cambridge cox as I went to school with him. As much as we will try to beat them, we don’t dehumanise or demonise them.”
Finally, it was the turn of Oxford University Boat Club. Sean Bowden, Head Coach, Michael DiSanto, President, and Sam Collier, Cox, faced the media in the last of the four squad press conferences.
Bowden was asked about the make-up of the crew he’s been coaching. “They’re a good boat,” he said. “Physiologically, they’re very strong and they’ve been improving in training and have responded well to coaching”.
DiSanto, who returned to Oxford after a season spent with the US Olympic squad, spoke of what he has brought back to the UK. “I learned a lot from Sean which I took to the Olympic trials,” he explained. “It’s good to be back for my final year at Oxford and I feel like I’ve brought some experience and know-how to a crew that is already very good.”
Speaking about the boat, he said: “I think it’s a determined group of guys. Perseverance, persistence and determination are hallmarks of this boat. It’s a new crop of athletes, with only a third returning from last year. We’re aware of what happened in the last race but it isn’t something we focus on too much. We tailor our processes to the current squad.”
The weigh-in stand-off between the two stroke-men of Cambridge and Oxford sparked a lot of interest but DiSanto was keen to downplay it. “It was just a bit of fun,” he said. “I don’t know who initiated it, but it didn’t really mean anything – I was certainly quite surprised.”
The Cooks, who will race together as brothers on Sunday, were also a topic of discussion. Bowden said: “It’s been good to see Ollie come into a program where his younger brother is already established. There’s been healthy rivalry and it’s worked out really well. Jamie has had a terrific year and has been at his best levels since joining OUBC.”
The two umpires also faced some media questions. Sarah Winckless will be umpiring her first Boat Race whilst Matthew Pinsent will take on his second.
Asked about her debut, Winckless said: “I guess everyone has to do their first race at some point. I’ve had some really good progress working alongside the Boat Race and I feel ready.
Umpires often have a decisive part to play in proceedings and Pinsent was quick to acknowledge that. “You’d be pretty foolish to say you’ll have very little impact on Sunday. It’s the most complicated rowing event you can be a part of. The crews are nervous but we’ve just got to try and keep focused on the task ahead which is a fair race where they can both express how fast they are.”
Discussing the briefing, Pinsent said: “The crews are always interested in your opinion on different scenarios – what happens if etc. I finished my briefing by saying to both coxes to imagine a scenario where you’ve allowed your crew to express themselves in the fairest possible way. I don’t think any cox approaches the race with the intention to clash. Previous contests have been almost like hand to hand combat and the panel came together to try and draw a line under that. I told the coxes that they’ve got to give their crews the chance to win the race.”
Winckless also noted the advantages of discussing the race with a crew beforehand. “It probably is useful to have that face-to-face dialogue beforehand. They get to hear you and know what you’re doing so you do form a relationship with the clubs. However, it’s race day – it’s going to be noisy and exciting. It’s our job to ensure emotions don’t get the better of the crews.”