For most Varsity sports at Oxford, the Varsity match is at least eight weeks into term, if not more, giving old and new members of the clubs the chance to prepare to face their long-standing rivals. For members of Oxford University’s Athletics Club, the year always begins with high-level competition: the Freshers’ Varsity match. Seemingly subscribing to the ‘trial by combat’ philosophy, the newest additions to the OUAC will have their merit tested in a match against Cambridge. The competition is considered by many members of the club to be the early highlight of the season.
As fun as competitions always are, especially going into the dead season of winter training as a precursor to indoor track, the Fresher’s Varsity match carries a little more weight than just any early-season track meet. Although the competition itself strives to maintain a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, it also provides the club with the opportunity to see who out of its new recruits is likely to become a strong competitor during the indoor and spring seasons.
Last year, two of the OUAC’s most influential athletes, including the team captain, graduated and left the roster with two very significant places to fill. Sam Trigg, 2014 captain, broke a field event record that had stood for 27 years, while Adam McBraida earned a record four straight victories in the hurdles at the Varsity match. Captaincy changeovers, especially after the loss of such significant contributors to the team, always leave an imbalance in the roster in their wake, and the same is true for graduating seniors who leave behind new records.
Although obviously none of the freshers are expected to put on those kind of showstopping performances during their first year as club competitors, being thrown into competition early does give the captain and president a solid picture of for what the additions might be able to do. In addition, it gives them the opportunity to place talented junior members in events that they might not necessarily have run in school competitions or focused on in practice. For example, one of 2014’s junior international members, Louis Rawlings, earned a dramatic victory in the 800 metres at the Fresher’s Varsity match. However, it was his victory straight out of left field in the 400 metres over Cambridge’s very over-hyped 400 star that really cemented his status shift from a Varsity team prospect to a Varsity team member. Therefore, the Fresher’s Varsity match allows for a fair, unbiased, competition- based trial system to see who might be the next 27-year record holder.
But the Fresher’s Varsity match doesn’t just provide early-season competition for the team members; it’s also one of the earliest competitions to attend for all members of the University. It’s a chance for all first years to see their friends compete in a high-energy, rivalry-fuelled match, and promises to be an exciting, goal-driven competition for spectators and athletes alike.