The first race of the new century saw controversy when following repeated clashes off the start the Cambridge bow man, Colin Swainson lost his blade. Umpire Rupert Obholzer stopped the race and restarted it from the black-buoy. Oxford never recovered from what many believe was an unfair decision and Cambridge held a modest lead to Chiswick before moving on to win by two and a half lengths.
This incident prompted the two clubs to formalise umpiring arrangements, establishing a formal panel of umpires with four members from each university, chaired by a senior umpire. Since creating the panel umpiring has become a much less controversial issue.
The races of 2002 and 2003 were both exceptional. Cambridge missed the first stroke in 2002 letting Oxford take an early lead, yet they clawed it back and were leading by half a length at the mile post. Oxford held on though pushing repeatedly as the crews rowed side by side for 10 minutes, until Oxford inched ahead along Dukes meadows. The Cambridge four man, German Olympian Sebastian Meyer was spent by this stage and struggling to maintain his form, and though Oxford couldn’t open up clear water, they went onto a two third of a length victory in a time of 16 mins 56 secs.
This was followed by an even closer finish in 2003. Cambridge had been forced into a late crew change when Wayne Pommen broke a wrist, allowing Ben Smith into the crew to race his brother the Oxford stroke. Cambridge on Surrey went into a slight lead off the start and while the crews fought for supremacy umpire Boris Rankov repeatedly warned them to keep apart, avoiding clashes. Cambridge led by only 1 second at Hammersmith bridge, but they couldn’t capitalise on their bend as Matt Smith in the Oxford stroke seat maintained close contact.
At Chiswick steps Cambridge still only had a 1 second lead, then Oxford pushed gaining a narrow advantage by Barnes bridge. Cambridge pushed back over the final few hundred meters raising their rate to 41 strokes a minute. But Oxford held on in the closest finish in Boat Race history to win by one foot.
2004 saw the 175th anniversary of the race and the 150th race. But it was to be one of the most fractious with repeated clashes of blades resulting in Oxford bowman Chris Kennelly losing his seat twice, near the Mile Post and again near Harrods. Cambridge went onto win by six lengths despite Oxford cox Acer Nethercott’s appeal at the finish.
New Boat Race sponsor Xchanging came on board for a 2005 race that saw Oxford dubbed as giants by Cambridge coach Robin Williams. Tipping the scales at an average of 15st 6lbs they were a big and powerful crew who went away fast at the start, but as with many of the most recent races Cambridge were virtually level to Hammersmith. It was only at Chiswick steps that Oxford moved away to avenge the previous years defeat. A feat they repeated in 2006.
Cambridge turned the tables in 2007 but this was another closely contested race. Oxford held a lead going into Hammersmith but only by the narrowest of margins. Cambridge dug deep and pushed all the way to get back on level terms before going ahead at the Bandstand 3 miles into the race. Oxford fought back but Cambridge held on to win by one and a quarter lengths.
2008 produced another classic race. In overcast and windy conditions Oxford went into a lead but couldn’t break Cambridge who fought back to be ahead by two thirds of a length shortly after Hammersmith bridge. Oxford looked stronger however and upped their rate to 36 to go back into the lead, which they had stretched to a length at Chiswick steps. Cambridge had no response as conditions deteriorated and Oxford went onto win by six lengths in the slowest time since 1947 of 20mins 53secs.
The race of 2009 saw Oxford adopt similar tactics to the previous year, holding on to a slight Cambridge lead between The Mile Post and Hammersmith, they pushed hard and decisively at Chiswick Eyot to win by 3 ½ lengths.
As the decade has progressed the races themselves have become more evenly matched contests with fewer processional races, at least for the first 10 minutes or more. 2010 proved this point in another epic tussle. Oxford on Surrey drove off hard and had a ¾ length lead going through Hammersmith, but Cambridge looked more fluent and held on around the long bend, putting in their push at Chiswick and going on to win by 4 seconds.
The race of 2011 though a high rating affair lacked the drama associated with much of the previous decade, Oxford edging out the light blues from the start and steadily drawing away to win.
In the eleven races from 2001–2011 Oxford dominated 2 to 1 winning 7 to Cambridge’s 4, with a pattern emerging of the dark blues winning two in succession prior to the light blues winning one. Before the start of the 2012 race however, Cambridge still had the upper hand overall having won 80 to Oxford’s 76.