Joshua Bugajski, the Oxford rower removed from the Boat Race crew days before the main event, has denied rumours of a “bust-up” with coach Sean Bowden.
Bugajski, a veteran of two Boat Races, fell ill last week, and was replaced in the men’s boat by Christ Church student Benedict Aldous in training. On Wednesday, Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC) confirmed that 20-year-old would row in Saturday’s race in Bugajski’s place.
Then, on Wednesday evening, footage emerged of Bugajski training with Great Britain at the national team’s headquarters in Caversham – where he pulled an impressively quick time on the ergometer.
At a press conference on Thursday, Bowden admitted that the decision to replace Bugajski in the boat was not exclusively due to his supposed illness.
“I think it’d be fair to say that Josh [Bugajski] being a more experienced guy, quite a strong character, yes, we would have had certain times when we would have found ourselves in disagreement over some things,” said Bowden.
“I’ve never been through a Boat Race season without disagreements and healthy discussion is essential to bring a team together. Sometimes that can be more prolonged and disruptive than you’d like it to be, other times crews that are too malleable are not very good either.
“We had a number of issues this year with the boat not functioning as well as we’d like it to,” Bowden said, “and I think for whatever reason we found that when Benedict came in we had a good restart, made good progress.
“There was an uncertainty about Josh’s recovery and we just made our decision. When Benedict came into the boat we had a really positive experience with that. With the time available, we said we just need to get on with it.”
After it was raised that Bugajski had been training with Great Britain, Bowden said: “If Josh has recovered well, then good luck to him, [but] we don’t have him in a boat.”
But Bugajski has denied that the rift between the pair went beyond “disagreements”.
He told WEROW: “I don’t have much to add on top of Sean’s answers at the press conference today. I was very ill last week, and Sean felt the boat was going well in my absence.
“Of course, we have had our disagreements over the course of 4 years training under him, but there was certainly no ‘bust-up’ as has been rumoured.
“It’s a tough sport and tough decisions are made.” he told us. “I’ve learnt a lot from Sean as a coach which I will always be appreciative of, and will be cheering on the Oxford crew on Saturday. I’ve now moved into training at Caversham, and my focus has moved onto GB trials in April and gaining selection for the World Rowing Championships in September.”
Bugajski’s absence means that Oxford are without their heaviest rower, and go into the race considerably lighter than Cambridge. While weight is often overplayed as a factor, it is notable that 58% of Boat Races have been won by the heavier crew.
Cambridge are odds-on favourites with most bookmakers, and Bowden – Oxford’s coach since 1997 – is well aware of their underdog status.
“We do what we can to turn that around,” he said . “I think we see ourselves as people with a big challenge and a lot to learn.
“We don’t look at the odds, but every crew has a chance and some crews have a bigger chance than others. It’s not the hand you’ve got but how well you play.”
The Boat Races take place this Saturday. The Women’s race starts at 4.31pm, with the Men’s at 5.32pm.