Cambridge have won this year’s Xchanging Boat Race in controversial circumstances.
The race was halted after just over ten minutes due to a swimmer blocking the boats’ path as a ‘protest’.
Very soon after the restart a Cambridge win became a formality when Oxford’s Dr Hanno Wienhausen lost the blade of his oar after a collision with the Cambridge team.
Cambridge began the day by winning the coin toss and choosing the Surrey station, leaving Oxford to row from the Middlesex position.
The Dark Blues came away the quickest, drawing a third of a length ahead before the first corner after a sluggish Cambridge start.
The Cambridge team then moved back into contention, allowing their extra weight to tell against a headwind and settling into a strong rhythm.
At the Hammersmith Bridge Oxford still held a very slim advantage, although the Surrey bend allowed Cambridge to nose in front for the first time.
However, the Light Blues failed to capitalise on their position, and Oxford moved back alongside before retaking the lead at the ten minute mark.
Controversy then followed as the race was stopped by a swimmer blocking the boats with Oxford leading by a quarter of a length. Trenton Oldfield, 35, a privately educated Londoner who has an MSc in Contemporary Urbanism from the London School of Economics, risked being struck by the Oxford boat’s blades and was removed from the water by a police launch. He has since been charged with a public order offence.
Following the stoppage, both crews were affected by a build-up of lactic acid, and the river was choppy due to the supporting launches having to turn round.
The umpire, John Garrett, then restarted the crews with a rolling start from the bottom of Chiswick Eyot. This allowed Cambridge to reclaim some advantage, again benefiting from the inside line around the bend. Oxford were quick onto the second and third stroke, though, moving well and retaking the lead.
However, just thirty seconds after the restart, the race was over as a contest. The oar of Oxford 6, Hanno Weinhausen, lost its blade after a collision between the boats. The umpire had been warning Oxford to alter their line and thus judged the collision to be their fault.
Garrett, who was previously Cambridge University Boat Club President, said after the race, “The rules state clearly that the crews have to abide by their accidents.
“Cambridge was not off their station, but in the immediate run up to the clash Oxford were off their station. Cambridge were in the right place so I was happy to allow the result to stand.”
The Cambridge team then cruised to victory, leading easily by several lengths.
At the race’s end Oxford cox, Zoe de Toledo, was heard arguing with the umpire. She argued that she had not ignored the umpire’s commands to change her boat’s line, “There was so much wash that I could not move as fast as I wanted to.”
De Toledo added, “We can’t have a race that ends like this.”
Weinhausen was heard shouting, “My oar broke down in the first hundred metres. That’s a restart.”
When the Umpire announced that he was rejecting Oxford’s appeal, a member of the Oxford crew gave ironic applause.
However, Oxford’s anger quickly turned into concern for their bowman Alex Woods, who had collapsed in the back of their boat and had to be taken into a launch for medical attention.
Alex Woods collapsed from exhaustion at the finish line
Photograph: Sonali Campion
David Nelson, CUBC President and the winning bow rower, commented, “It’s shocking to see Alex in such a state, I hope he’s alright.”
His Cambridge teammate Steve Dudek added, that the team intended to celebrate with “a bit of class.” He added, “We really, really hope he’s alright. Our thoughts are with him.”
Woods is believed to have suffered from severe exhaustion, though is currently conscious and sitting upright.
In response to the controversy surrounding the race, CUBC Vice-President Mike Thorp said, “All we could do in that situation was just do what we’ve been trained to do, not look around and just keep going.”
The usual presentation at the end of the race was cancelled as Alex Woods continued to receive treatment from the medical team.
Following the race, OUBC President Karl Hudspith took to Twitter, saying that he was ‘proud of everyone in the team and how they rowed.’ He also took the opportunity to vent his anger at Oldfield, tweeting, ‘Finally to Trenton Oldfield; my team went through seven months of hell, this was the culmination of our careers and you took it from us.’
Crewmember William Zeng, a doctorate student at Oriel College, was also emotional, tweeting, ‘When I missed your head with my blade I knew only that you were a swimmer, and if you say you are a protester then no matter what you say your cause may be, your action speaks too loudly for me to hear you.
‘I know exactly what you were protesting. You were protesting the right of 17 young men and one woman to compete fairly and honorably, to demonstrate their hard work and desire in a proud tradition.’
‘You were protesting their right to devote years of their lives, their friendships, and their souls to the fair pursuits of the joys and the hardship of sport. You, who would make a mockery of their dedication and their courage, are a mockery of a man.’
A blog that appeared on the internet yesterday, entitled ‘Elitism Leads to Tyranny’ and described as a ‘Statement by Trenton Oldfield’, states, ‘This is a protest, an act of civil disobedience, a methodology of refusing and resistance…I am swimming into the boats in the hope I can stop them from completing the race’.
Reflecting on the race, Cambridge student Julius Handler said, “This is certainly not the way we would have wanted to win. It was a sombre end to a race fraught with misfortune but it was heartening to see the two teams come together in support of Alex Woods.’
Curtis Gallant, another student at Cambridge, added, “What a ridiculous race. I felt so sorry for the guy rowing without an oar for the last five minutes.
‘They were warned multiple times about steering towards the Cambridge boat so they brought it upon themselves somewhat. Even so, this race was definitely not cricket. I feel pretty bad for Oxford, but by the rules Cambridge are rightful winners.”
Gallant added, ‘This is not a proud day for either Oxons or Cantabs’, and, commenting on the swimmer who had caused the race to restart, stated that the event should also raise concerns about “security at the Olympics’.
Sam Rodrigues, a history undergraduate at St Anne’s, said, ‘Considering the delays, the rainy weather and severe overpricing of the beer, I think it was a bit of an anticlimax.’
Lincoln second year Ruth Burrows agreed that the race had been ‘disappointing’, while engineer Oli Roberts described the race as ‘carnage.’
Oxford’s consolation prize was a victory in the reserve competition. The Isis beat Goldie, the Cambridge boat, by four lengths, despite being a stone per man lighter.
Estimates suggest that over 250,000 people attended this year’s race.