Oxford women triumph at Varsity Athletics

The 2011 edition of the Athletics Varsity match was, quite simply, a thrashing, as a very strong Cambridge team steamrollered all before them on their way to a 4-0 victory. The current OUAC committee had put in countless hours of work to ensure this was not repeated and when Cambridge arrived on Saturday morning, slightly delayed to a series of coach-related mishaps, battle commenced as the 138th running of this historic competition, over thirty years older than the modern Olympics, got underway.

In the men’s Blues match, it quickly became clear that the overall standard was very high and the result would go right down to the wire. Ex-CUAC captain Mark Dyble, now running for the Dark Blues, overcame a hamstring strain to heroically win the 100m for the fourth year in succession, while men’s captain Bradford Waldie mastered difficult and gusty conditions to win the pole vault.

Alas, he and newly-elected club President Alex Probodziak, victorious in the javelin, were Oxford’s only winners in the field and Cambridge were able to pick up plenty of points through the strength of their heavy throwers and horizontal jumpers.

On the track, Josh Gilbert was a popular winner in the 110m hurdles, with all four athletes well under last year’s winning time, while fresher Adam McBraida picked himself up after a tumble in the 400m hurdles to win the 200m hurdles in a lightning-quick time, earning him a Full Blue. Other event winners were Chris Morter in the 200m, Tom Frith with an electric last 200m in the 5000m and Caspar Eliot in the 400m. Eliot and high jumper Freddie Hendry were the two non-winners to achieve the Full Blue standard on the day, Eliot in the 400m hurdles, and were unlucky to come up against stronger Cambridge athletes. Hendry in particular, who was defeated by a CUAC high jumper who added 9cm to his personal best in the high jump to eventually clear 2.04m and win athlete of the match for his troubles.

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However, their efforts were not quite enough, as the Cambridge men emerged victorious, although some of their showboating during the final relay drew the ire of the crowd, a slight black mark on a day where everything else was contested with excellent spirit.

The women’s Blues match followed similar script, with every point fiercely fought over and every win crucial. Star of the show was incoming women’s captain Nadine Prill who was in imperious form as she took the 100m, 200m and 400m, the 200m in an OUAC record, and she was justly awarded women’s athlete of the match. This match also saw the last outing for OUAC stalwart Clara Blättler, as she looked to add to her five event wins from the last three matches. Unfortunately, a schedule shift due to the tabs’ late arrival saw her favoured pole vault moved to after the 400m hurdles, so although she was victorious in the latter she was unable to reclaim her vaulting title for a record fourth year in a row due to fatigue (trust the author, you can’t do anything after a 400m hurdles), and had to make do with winning the 100m hurdles instead.

Other excellent wins for Joanna Klaptocz in the mile, Jess Chen in the 5000m, Sue Altman in the shot (with Millipedes captain Katie Holder a mere 2cm back in second), Cat Hirst in the javelin and international oarswoman Kathryn Twyman in the steeplechase saw the scores level coming into the final event, the 4x400m relay. The race ebbed and flowed, the lead changing hands several times, and the final changeover saw Nadine receive the baton a good few metres behind the Cambridge runner. There was a brief nervy moment round the back bend where it looked as if the four previous races had left too little in the tank, but on the home straight a stunning kick saw her storm past to take the victory, and with it the match.

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The second team matches (Oxford’s Centipedes and Millipedes against Cambridge’s Alverstones and Alligators respectively) were played out to a similarly high standard. In the men’s match, Edoardo Guaschino and Fabe Downs were double event winners on the track, while Jonathan Darby ran an excellent solo 800m, a first lap of under 54 seconds taking him to a huge win and personal best.

Exeter College’s Ralph Eliot was another notable performer, winning the 200m/400m double in faster times than the Blues match in both cases (much to the chagrin of his elder brother), and he was duly awarded the trophy for most notable second team performance. However, OUAC’s weakness in the field was again apparent, not recording a single victory, and the final result again saw Cambridge take a narrow victory by six points.

The women’s second team match saw the only clear cut result of the day. Sports Federation President and last year’s captain Helen Hanstock was ineligible for Blues this year, and instead had to make do with six individual event wins and two second places for the Millipedes. Hockey Blue Lizzie Totten swept the longer sprints, while Clemmie McAteer took the steeplechase in a fantastic time, beating last year’s Blues winner and qualifying her for the National U20s championship. In all, the Millipedes took 15 wins to the Alligators 5, to record a comfortable victory.

So a case of congratulations to the women and commiserations to the men, but thoughts of what might have been were swiftly forgotten in the night that followed. In truth, the turnaround from last year’s record defeats was in itself excellent, and the Men’s Blues can consider themselves unlucky that they didn’t make it a 3-1 overall victory. It will be up to the new committee, led by Prill, Alex Probodziak and Paralympic hopeful Dan Hooker, to nurture the young talent and ensure that the club’s next visit to Cambridge is remembered a lot more fondly than its last.