Oxford inched out of victory at Henley Boat races

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It is somewhat fitting that the year many feared the Henley Boat Races would fade into irrelevance with the departure of the openweight women brought its most spectacular set of races to date. Sadly despite strong indicators from the early season Oxford were pipped, quite literally, at the post by marginally faster Cambridge crews.

The racing started with the collegiate womens race pitting Green Templeton against Christ’s (Cambridge). The sun was shining and the wind was calm leading to near perfect racing conditions. Green Templeton lead off the start getting out to a lead of half a length by Upper Thames where the Oxford supporters were based to hear cheers from the Dark Blue supporters’ crowd. Sadly they were overcome by a very strong crew from Christ’s who went on to win by just over half a length, around two seconds. In the face of such strong opposition this was a good result for our girls who will undoubtedly move on from their performance in Torpids to another strong showing in Eights.

Then Oriel raced Jesus College, Cambridge in the intercollegiate men’s race. Oriel had been strong favourites to win but an impressive Jesus crew pushed them the whole way down the course. The Oriel boat characteristically pulled out to a lead off the start and slowly extended it over the course, fighting through a series of strong pushes from Jesus. The race ended somewhat bizarrely with Jesus stopping before the finish after they heard a horn from the bank that they interpreted as the finishing gun. At this stage Oriel had opened a clear water lead. Cherwell is yet to comprehend why a crew would stop before they themselves crossed the line and if any readers know why please let us know. The final verdict was three lengths to Oriel.

This capped off a remarkable season for the Tortoises. They appear to be the most successful Torpids crew since records began, achieving the highest ever blades when they bumped from sixth to second in Division One. Soon afterwards Oriel triumphed in a four length win at Eton Dorney over the headship crew in the battle for qualification to compete in the HBR. The win against Jesus saw Oriel claim the mantle of the first male Oxford college team to beat Tab collegiate oarsmen at HBR. After such domination will there be any stopping them coming into Summer VIIIs?

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The lightweight fixtures featured the most agonisingly close set of races I have ever witnessed. Cambridge lead off the start of both races by a small margin but at no point in either of the 2000 metre races was there clear water between the crews. Oxford pushed hard the whole way down the course in an attempt to make up the distance and in both races started drawing back up on Cambridge in the closing stages of the race. The tension on the bank was unbelievable in both instances but particularly in the men’s race where the commentator closed off by saying “…Oxford are charging…. and both crews cross the line at the same time”.

Sadly Oxford ran out of course to catch Cambridge with. The final verdict was three feet in the women’s race and four feet in the men’s race. The lightweight men’s appeal following a clash was not upheld leaving the crews in a sombre mood.

Congratulations to Cambridge for a fantastic set of races and winning the Victor Ludorum. I would like to take this moment to recognise the incredible dedication and sacrifice of the lightweight squads who have trained week in week out for over 12 sessions a week leading up to Henley just to do battle for this university. Whilst they were unfortunate to come up against very strong opposition they can hold their heads high knowing they pushed themselves to the very limit and that at the end of the day there was  really no difference between the two crews, given the variation in speed during the stroke cycle.

I hope the crews are not deterred and will continue from strength to strength to BUCS and beyond.

Cherwell will continue its coverage of rowing over the vac with live coverage of the Boat Races this Saturday where OUBC are going for their third consecutive win after the calamity of 2012 and OUWBC look to continue their dominance and be the first women’s crew to win on the Tideway.