For the first time in its history, all Cambridge and Oxford boat teams raced this year on the Thames.
Whilst this means the men’s reserve team raced just before the men’s first team, the more important difference was that the women’s team raced just an hour before, in front of London’s cheering crowds.
Since the start of the women’s race in 1927, it has been held at the Henley Regatta on a shorter course and far lower profile event.
In the early years the women’s teams were judged on the quality of their strokes, rather than simply their endurance and speed across a distance.
Spectator turnout at the big screen viewing area at Hammersmith was strong as London’s sunny weather continued.
At 4.50 pm there was a roar of support and enthusiasm for the audience at Furnival Gardens, as the Women’s boats ready at the starting line appeared on the screen.
It appeared as though many were well aware of the historical significance of the moment
LMMN reporter Katie Rogers, rower and men’s coach at Churchill College, Cambridge 2009 – 2012, gives her analysis of the team’s performances.
The Oxford team won the toss and chose the Surrey side of the river, meaning it would be on the outside of the first corner but on the inside of the second.
The odds were against the Cambridge team, and from the off it seemed clear they were going to be outclassed. Put most simply, it was a case of the Oxford team being better at ‘getting their oars in’.
The bigger splashes they were causing at the catch – the start of the stroke in the water – made it clear that they were managing the choppy waters of the Tideway far better than Cambridge.
The Oxford team rated high off the start, looking relaxed with long strong strokes, as they immediately began overtaking on the outside of the first corner. Cambridge looked far less confident, losing water and not making the best of their early Middlesex side advantage.
Once their lead was convincing, some aggressive coxing from Oxford pushed them directly in front of the flagging Cambridge boat, before tucking into the inside of the second Surrey corner. No reply came from Cambridge in the finishing straight.
The Oxford team, with its world-class rowers, looked calm and technically strong right until the finish line – it was a beautiful row.
Despite the loss, even those supporting Cambridge applauded the achievements of the women’s teams for finally achieving equality on the water.
Some later called for the Cambridge coaching team to finish the job and provide the women’s team with equal support and training facilities, the lack of which many feel contributed to their underwhelming performance.
The weather held out all afternoon until the unusually late Men’s race, delayed until the evening due to the tides.
In recent years it has become easy to say, with some confidence, that whoever is the heavier boat will win. This year, however, it was different – the Oxford team was the favourite despite being lighter, with a strong pedigree and more Olympians in the boat.
The Cambridge team won for the coin toss, also opting for the favoured Surrey side.
The rough conditions in the water should have favoured the heavier Cambridge boat off the start, but a poor performance threw the boat off as Oxford took the lead.
Cambridge, however, replied on the first corner, catching up with Oxford round the outside and keeping themselves in the race. However, worries that this ‘fly and die’ tactic might backfire proved correct.
Despite the wind, the Oxford boat pushed hard on the outside of the Surrey corner, coxes being warned by the referee as the jostled for the best line. Cambridge upped their rating as a response but flagged quickly, with Oxford’s superior rowing leaving them behind.
Oxford refused to hold off, pulling away continually along the straight to secure a convincing victory to add to Cambridge’s recent losing streak.
Whilst it could be argued that such a momentous day would have been marked better by closer, more tightly-won races, the success of holding all the races on the same day means it’s likely it will be a tradition that will continue into the future.