Having spent the week practising on the Tideway in near perfect spring conditions, BNY Mellon Boat Races day dawned with squally rain and gusty westerly winds. The Newton Women's Boat Race took place first at 4:50pm, followed an hour later by The BNY Mellon Boat Race at 5:50pm.
By women's race time at 4.50pm on this historic day for women’s sport the sun had burst through, though the wind remained, making for choppy conditions around the long Surrey bend.
Oxford were the pre-Race favourites, having looked very strong in their fixtures on the Tideway. Both crews had made late changes, in the Light Blue Boat Hannah Evans exchanged the bow seat for the rhythm setting position at stroke with Swiss national Fanny Belais, this despite Evans’ relative inexperience, having only learned to row as an undergraduate in of all places, Oxford. The Dark Blues made their own swap just last week, moving British teenager Maddy Badcott to five and putting Nadine Graedel Iberg, another Swiss, behind multi-Olympic medalist Caryn Davies at seven.
In a taste of things to come Oxford won the toss and as so often happens on the Championship Course chose the Surrey station. From the start umpire Simon Harris was given very little to do as the crews stayed well apart from each other, Oxford at 42, Cambridge slightly lower at 40 strokes per minute.
For the first minute Cambridge stayed on terms with the lighter Oxford crew, but the power and precision of the Dark Blues soon told as they eased away to a canvas advantage passing the Town Buoy.
Cambridge dug deep and pushed trying to take advantage of the Middlesex bend in bouncy conditions, but Oxford always had control settling to a long rhythmic 33 as they eased away. By the Mile Post, which Oxford reached in 4:08 their lead had stretched to just over a length, allowing them to choose where they wanted to steer on the river. Cambridge’s job was now all the harder as they rowed through Oxford’s wash.
By Hammersmith Bridge, reached in 7:25, the strong headwind kicked in but Oxford continued to ease away, rowing their own race unaffected by anything Cambridge threw at them. The Light Blue’s persevered at 34, over-rating Oxford but there was nothing they could do to get back on terms.
A lead of 3 lengths at Hammersmith Bridge turned into 4 by Chiswick Steps through the rough conditions, and as Cambridge tired Oxford looked more relaxed, sitting at a steady 32 for the rest of the Race as they pulled further away.
By the finish Oxford had pulled out to a 6 ½ length victory in a time of 19 minutes 45 seconds.
On this historic day Christine Wilson the Oxford Women’s coach said she was “Proud of these remarkable women.”
For the Light Blues, coach Rob Baker said “ This young crew has come a long way but we knew we were up against a fast crew from Oxford today, we just didn’t have enough.”
One hour after history was made by the Women, the Men’s crews took to the river for the 161st running of The BNY Mellon Boat Race.
Oxford stroke and President Constantine Louloudis, a current World Champion, was looking to make his own piece of history by joining small club of just 13 oarsmen to win 4 or more Boat Races.
While Oxford were firm favourites with the bookies, their preparation had been disrupted during Tideway week when 4 man, the Kiwi James O’Connor, was taken ill, only returning to the Blue Boat, now rowing at 2, just two days prior to the Race. His brother Sam at 7 was one of 4 returning Oxford Blues.
The Cambridge crew boated five Blues from 2014 including cox Ian Middleton. Their President Alexander Leichter raced for Goldie in their defeat to Isis last year and was burning for revenge. The warning was there though from Oxford’s Louloudis who said before the Race, “I haven’t come here having won 3 Races to lose the last one.”
Cambridge won the toss and picked the Surrey station but got off to a poor start allowing Oxford to take the early advantage. Both crews went off hard though and were still rating in the high 30s passing the Putney boathouses. As Umpire Boris Rankov issued his first warnings of the day to Cambridge, the Light Blues were back on terms. Settling to 36 strokes a minute they had a canvas advantage passing the Fulham Wall.
Louloudis in the Oxford stroke seat didn’t look phased, sitting at 37, to pull level at Barn Elms before pushing on to again take the lead. Cambridge fought hard though keeping the lead down to ¼ length at the Mile Post which Oxford passed in a time of 3:44. It was still just over ¼ length at Harrods and only 1 second at Hammersmith Bridge, and with the Surrey bend aiding Cambridge they looked to push and get back on terms.
Oxford had other ideas and went for broke in the rough water past St. Paul’s School boathouse, on the outside of the bed. This is where Cambridge would have expected to be fighting for the lead, instead Oxford’s push up to 35 strokes a minute, took them away and in just 20 strokes they had a clear water lead, allowing them to negate Cambridge’s bend advantage.
Oxford could now choose their water, so chose to row immediately in front of the Light Blues using the remainder of the Surrey bend to their own advantage. From Chiswick Steps on, the cohesion and neat bladework characteristic of this crew allowed Oxford to pull relentlessly away. As the lead increased the more Oxford relaxed and the faster they went, sitting happily now at 33 strokes per minute.
The lead at that point was 7 seconds. Cambridge persevered but despite rating higher than Oxford kept slipping further back. As the water flattened around Dukes Meadow, Oxford relentlessly extended their lead. 14 seconds advantage at Barnes Bridge was turned into 20 seconds over the final 3 minutes, Oxford winning by 20 seconds in a time of 17:34.
Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore accepted that his team were second best today, praising his opposite number Sean Bowden, “All credit to Sean, we couldn’t match Oxford’s speed around the top of the Surrey bend, but I’m immensely proud of my whole crew.” he said.
Louloudis expressed a sense of relief about winning his fourth Boat Race and felt his men had executed their best row today. Bowden himself said “We had a particularly good crew today, I’m really chuffed with the result.” Talking about the decisive moment he said, “In terms of psychology we’d had a good experience around the Surrey bend in the Trial VIIIs so we knew we could make the right moves at the right time, it’s the art of match racing.”