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Summer Eights 2024: Oriel, Christ Church stay on top

Oriel College and Christ Church College defended their positions as Head of the River for the Men’s and Women’s Eights Week races respectively this year. The races, which took place from the Wednesday to the Saturday of fifth week, were tightly contested in the Women’s first division, but all of the top five in the Men’s first division retained their spots from last year. 

Eights Week is part of the 200-year old Oxford tradition of ‘bumps’ racing. Boats race single file and attempt to physically bump the boat in front of them, while avoiding being bumped by the boat behind. Crews are ranked within divisions that race each day of the four days of Summer Eights. Bumping moves a crew up in their division, while being bumped moves them down. Crews that are on top of their division then race as the ‘sandwich boat’ at the bottom of the next division; if they manage to bump, they are promoted to the division above them. Crews that are bumped by the sandwich boat are relegated to the division below. 

The crew that finishes on top of the first division becomes the ‘Head of the River’. At Eights 2023, Oriel M1 had finished as Head of the River for the Men’s races, as had Christ Church W1 in the Women’s. This year, both teams rowed over (did not bump, nor were bumped) every day to defend their position at the top. While these results suggest stasis from the previous year, there were significant shakeups in the divisions below them. 

‘Blades’ are awarded to crews that win Head of the River, or have bumped every day of the four days of the races. Similarly, ‘spoons’ are won by crews that have the dubious honour of being Tail of the River, or were bumped every day. Moreover, since each college often submits multiple crews, there are multiple opportunities for a college to win either blades or spoons, and sometimes even both.

Blades were won sparingly this season; only 14 out of a total of 159 crews won blades. Merton and Green Templeton were the only colleges to have more than one crew win blades, with two each (Merton: W1 and W2; Green Templeton: M1 and M3). Green Templeton M3’s 8-place rise represents the biggest jump this year for any crew. Hertford M2, Balliol W1, and Keble W2 are the only crews to have won blades both this year and last year. 

Spoons, on the other hand, were won more plentifully, with 20 crews winning spoons. Oriel’s headship of the Men’s races obscures what has been a disappointing performance from the college overall. Out of the eight crews that they submitted this year across both the Men’s and Women’s races, four (W1, W3, M3, M4) won spoons. This is well clear of other colleges; the runners-up at winning spoons were New (M5 and W3), Catz (M1 and M2), Wolfson (M4 and W2), Antony’s (M1 and W2), and Lincoln (W2 and M2), all with two crews each. The single largest fall for a crew was by Jesus M2 and Trinity W1, both of whom fell six places.

At the college level, the biggest risers were Merton, whose crews across both the Men’s and Women’s races enjoyed a net gain of 15 places. The largest gain in the Men’s races was Green Templeton, whose crews rose 16 places, while in the Women’s, Merton gained 12. The biggest losers this year were, unsurprisingly, Oriel, which overall fell 13 places. In the Men’s races, Catz fell 8 places, while in the Women’s, Hugh’s fell 6.

After inclement weather on the first three days of racing, the final day was graced by some lovely sunshine. Crowds numbering in the thousands visited Boathouse Island to spectate and cheer on their college’s crews. Crews were dutifully doused in champagne and prosecco upon completion of their races, win or lose. And isn’t that the essence of Summer Eights?

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