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Probably the most dramatic Boat Race ever

Probably the most dramatic Boat Race ever

One hundred years after both crews sank, it didn't seem possible that such drama could be matched in the modern era of the Boat Race.  In the lead up to the 158th Boat Race it had been Oxford who had shown the most impressive form, defeating an under 23 German crew and Leander Club convincingly and backing up the results with a later win against Molesey Boat Club. Cambridge, without the same form leading up to the race, carried a 7.9kg per man weight advantage that left it difficult to predict the outcome of a likely tight affair.

The only returning Blues were the Presidents, Dave Nelson at bow for Cambridge and Karl Hudspith at 5 for Oxford, and Mike Thorp of Cambridge.  The two coaches, Steve Trapmore (in only his second race at Cambridge) and Sean Bowden (in his 14th for Oxford), both selected from a global array of athletes, with great ranges in experience but neither lacking in quality.

Having enjoyed relatively benign weather in the weeks and days preceding the Race, the race started overcast and drizzly with a light NE wind. Quick conditions were available on a fast incoming tide, which saw the winning Isis crew break the Reserve Race course record in 16:41.  In the toss for stations it was Cambridge calling tails who chose the Surrey station, hoping to take advantage of the long bend mid-way through the Race.

Off the start it was Oxford who looked slicker at 44 strokes a minute, slightly over-rating Cambridge and taking an early ¼ length lead. They couldn’t break an indomitable Cambridge crew however who kept in touch with the leaders on the outside of the first bend. The crews reached the Mile Post level in 3:42, a quick time in the headwind, with the lack of returning Blues making no impact on the aggressive start to the race.  Every now and again the dark blues managed to take slight advantages of a seat or less, but as the two crews settled into their racing rhythms and with continual warnings from the umpires launch to “move apart” there was no advantage to either. This was how the race proceeded from the Mile Post with neither crew giving any quarter.  Much like the opening bend of the race, as the crews turned towards Surrey, Oxford on the outside of the bend held Cambridge so that the crews were still dead-level going underneath Hammersmith Bridge.

As the crews turned, the wind swung now swung behind the crews, producing even faster conditions and setting it up to be a one of the closest races of all time - perhaps even more of a thriller than the race of 2003.  From the start to Chiswick Steps, the margins were so small that the race record describes the crews as level at every point - over 10 minutes into the race.  With Oxford primed to put in a push on the outside of the bend turning into the Crossing, Oxford cox Zoe De Toledo shot her hand in the air to be followed quickly by the Umpire (John Garrett) waving his red flag to stop the race. Amid some confusion on the river, a swimmer had been removed from the river from the water between the two racing crews.  Later Garrett explained how his assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent had spotted the swimmer and that there was absolutely no choice but to stop the Race for the safety of the individual involved.

After 20 minutes Garrett restarted the Race, but it was cold and uncomfortable for the crews who needed to maintain their composure in the very bouncy water from the wakes of the following boats. Nothing like this had happened in the history of The Boat Race, but the drama was to continue after the restart. With a free start towards the bottom of Chiswick Eyot, Oxford were quicker through the first few strokes again slipping out to a ¼ length lead. Then just 35 seconds into the restarted race Oxford were continuously warned to move away from Cambridge. This they failed to do and a clash was inevitable. The Dark Blues came out the worst, with the collision ultimately costing them a chance at winning the race as Hanno Weinhausen (sat at six in the Oxford crew) snapped his blade halfway down the loom. Effectively the Race was over and Cambridge moved steadily away from the 7-oared Oxford crew over the next few minutes to win by 4 and a quarter lengths.

Despite the Oxford’s appeal at the end of the race, Umpire Garrett (who had disqualified Isis in 1990) declared Cambridge the winner. The day wasn’t quite over as Alex Woods, Oxford’s bow man, had collapsed after crossing the finish line having given everything to prevent his team’s loss and was lying unconscious in the boat. Cambridge President David Nelson seemed bemused and described the Race in his laconic fashion as “pretty dramatic” while expressing his concern for his Dark Blue rival.

Race Umpire John Garrett explained his decision to allow the race to continue after the clash, “Crews have to abide by their accidents. I was warning Oxford at the time of the clash, as they were off station. I was comfortable Cambridge were in the right place on the river, so it was right and within the rules to allow the Race to continue.”  After the Race there was no presentation ceremony as both sides showed their concern for Woods who was taken to Charing Cross hospital immediately afterwards, where he recovered and was released the following day.

This was a truly dramatic afternoon of sport, one in which the Umpire was adjudged to have made all the correct decisions in an unprecedented race, and in which many people probably didn’t notice that Ed Bosson had become the youngest ever winning Cambridge cox.

Classic Moments

Classic Moments
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