Oxford Women beat Cambridge Men in Triathlon Varsity

Matt Roller speaks to Lucy Farquhar about an historic Varsity victory

Photo: Nigel Fenwick

A Varsity win is always likely to be a special occasion, but for the Women’s Triathlon Blues, their part in the 5-0 trouncing of Cambridge at Emberton Park, Milton Keynes was particularly memorable.

This was not simply because this was one of the first times that all of the Women’s squad had had the opportunity to race together, nor was it the huge winning margin that Oxford managed against the Tabs’ Women’s team.

Rather, the most remarkable feat achieved was that the Oxford Women’s team triumphed against the odds to record better times than the Cambridge Men. This was not only an unprecedented result in Varsity Triathlon, but it is an extremely rare occurrence past the age group level of competition.

Speaking to Cherwell, Lucy Farquhar, the club’s Women’s captain who came second in the Women’s event to team-mate Sophia Saller, said: “It’s pretty much unheard of for this to happen, so it was an amazing thing to have been a part of.

“We knew we had done well, and there weren’t any Cambridge women anywhere near any of us, but we only found out about beating the Cambridge men later in the day.”

Farquhar, a second-year Engineer, was quick to point out the extent to which the sport has grown in Oxford: “OUTriC [Oxford University Triathlon Club] has come a long way in recent years and our result was definitely one of [the club’s] biggest successes.

“But it’s also only half the story: there were ridiculously many girls racing for OUTriC, which…shows that we have strength in numbers, as well as some top-performing girls.”

Indeed, in 2013, only ten women competed in the Varsity Triathlon event compared to some 26 this year: the club’s rapid growth is a credit to those who run it.

However, this was an important result not just for the Triathlon Club, but for women’s sport at Oxford in general.

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Great strides have recently been made to try to bridge the gap in funding and importance between Men’s and Women’s Varsity matches. This year’s Varsity football fixtures saw the Men’s and Women’s matches played in a double-header for the first time, similarly to rugby and rowing—it is often the case that the Women’s fixtures play second fiddle, starting at an inconvenient time earlier in the day and playing the role of curtain-raiser ahead of the ‘main event’.

Therefore, results like this one must be highlighted as much as possible.

“All of us are massive advocates for encouraging women [at Oxford] to take part in any sport, not just triathlon,” said Farquhar. “We feel incredibly excited to be playing our part in bringing Women’s sport at Oxford the attention and recognition it deserves.”

Upon speaking to Farquhar and finding out more about the top handful of Blues athletes, it strikes me just how impressive a feat it is to fit their training schedule and their frequent competitions into their packed degree schedules.

“It really is a massive undertaking,” she continued. “We train an insane amount, and I don’t think anyone could disagree with that.”

She tells me that whilst the level of training between her, Saller, and current President Laura Fenwick differs from day to day depending on other commitments, they all manage a minimum of two sessions a day, “but usually more than that is the norm for us.”

With three different disciplines—running, swimming and cycling—to prepare for, there is an exceptional amount of work to do, especially when gym work, injury prevention sessions and physio time are considered.

“We train together as much as possible, and push each other to get great results. We also train a lot with the guys in our club to push ourselves that bit harder.

“The training environment here at Oxford couldn’t be any better, and it’s great to be able to show that academics and high-level sport is a combination that works.”

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As in the majority of Oxford sports, Varsity is the pinnacle for triathletes, and the success at Milton Keynes will probably be remembered as the highlight of the 2016/17 season. However, that is not to say that the season is over. Indeed, the British Elite National Championships take place in a couple of weeks’ time, and the competition schedule is relentless: the Bundesliga, European and World Cups, and WTS races—among others—provide a constant cycle of near-future aims.

But, it is notable how much the top three competitors in particular love the sport and everything that goes with it. Farquhar refers often to the fun of training with her teammates and close friends, and when asked what the best thing about competition is, she is unequivocal in her response that it is “how much fun we have together.”

“Despite how seriously we all take our training, enjoyment and a love of the sport is the most important reason to compete.”

It perhaps is the case that many sports have a lot to learn from these athletes—their high level of performance is truly matched with a love for their sport. Things really are going swimmingly for OUTriC.