Sunday saw ten Oxford colleges descend to the Tideway for the Head of the River Race, the UK’s biggest head race. To the uninitiated think the Boat Race course, backwards, with four hundred crews hurtling down river. This was the men’s event, the Women’s Head of the River Race having taken place two Sundays prior. It’s a timed event, so the boat’s set off about twenty seconds after each other and race against the clock. As spectator sports go it’s probably up there with tai chi and ultra-marathon running, but any boredom on the part of disgruntled fans is surely outdone by the pain of the athletes. Over this gruelling, 6.8KM course, Oxford’s finest college oarsmen battled through the torrential wind and rain which is now typical of Head of the River Race, determined to end off the head race season on a high.
Reflecting their dominant form all season Oriel’s M1 crew came out the highest ranked Oxford crew, also comfortably defeating Cambridge’s best. Ranked 56th overall the Oriel finished with a time of 18:38.01. This was the Oriel Torpid which broke fifty years of history to bump from sixth to second in division one at Torpids, and clearly boosted by Tortoise and Isis alumnus Chris Fairweather, as well as 2012 Blue boat oarsman Will Zeng, delivered a stellar performance. Thirty six places behind were Pembroke, who rowed over comfortably every night at Torpids to stay head. Clocking in some 28 seconds behind Oriel at 19:06.23 they narrowly missed out on beating Downing College Cambridge, the top Tab college who finished 89th, two seconds ahead of them.
Then followed Hertford at 144th, Wadham two seconds behind at 151st and then Univ at 167th. Jesus flew in at 174th , a mere two seconds slower than Univ but Wolfson trailed somewhat breaking the twenty minute barrier with a time of 20:02.39 and finishing 189th. Things somewhat dropped off after that with Green Templeton bringing up the rear guard in 234th. Not to be outdone Linacre pipped John’s to the Oxford wooden spoon by 1.19 seconds ending up 256th. John’s eventually rolled across the finish at 258th.
That is not to belittle any of the Oxford college crews which took part. 343 crews raced the whole event and to have one just off the top fifty and two in the top hundred is pretty impressive, especially since this is a pre-Olympic year when most top athletes tend to compete for their clubs. Most importantly, given the tortuous cross-tail win even completing the event was an achievement, especially given it’s been cancelled in similar conditions for the last two years.
Oxford rowing now looks ahead to the Henley Boat Races which take place this Sunday. This pits the Dark Blue male and female lightweights against their Tab counterparts as well the top men and women’s college crews. So expect to see Oriel take on Jesus, Cambridge, and Green Templeton face down Christ’s, Cambridge. Oxford have historically dominated the lightweight boat race, winning 24 of the forty encounters so far for the men. However since the college race was set up in 2010 Oxford have yet to triumph in an encounter. Could this be the year Henley runs through and through Dark Blue?