The ‘Other Boat Races’

The flags of Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club, Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club & Oxford University Women’s Lightweight Rowing Club.

Tim Koch reports from Dorney Lake,

As reported on HTBS on 23 March, the organisers of the Henley Boat Races, (the Oxford – Cambridge races for heavyweight, reserve heavyweight and lightweight women and lightweight men) moved the event to the 2012 Olympic course at Dorney Lake because of the river conditions at Henley. This gave Oxford a few extra miles to tow their boats but, by the end of a very cold day, they were not complaining as they had won all four varsity races convincingly.

In the main event, The Newton Women’s Boat Race, Oxford’s heavyweights beat their Cambridge opposition by 1 3/4 lengths in 7 minutes 21 seconds. Going off at a much higher rate, Cambridge led until just after the half way mark but they could not respond as the stronger Oxford crew rowed them down.

The Newton Women’s Boat Race. Oxford lead Cambridge with 250 metres to go.

The Oxford coaching team cheer the winners of the Women’s Boat Race. Cambridge head for the rafts.

Cambridge lose in the worst way – rowed down after leading off the start.

Oxford coach Christine Wilson celebrates with her girls.

There was an even worse result for the Tabs in the heavyweight reserves race where Osiris (Oxford) beat Blondie (Cambridge) by a good 6 lengths in 7 minutes 41 seconds. Blondie had a bad start in the strong cross wind and, despite rating higher than their rivals, could not get in contention with the Dark Blues who had a more relaxed and effective style.

Oxford lead convincingly in the reserve race.

Oxford Reserves, happy in victory.

Oxford won again in the Lightweight Women’s Boat Race, beating Cambridge by 4 3/4 lengths in 7 minutes 33 seconds. Up to the half way mark it was more of a race, but after that point the Light Blues faded and their opponents extended their lead.

Another convincing win for Oxford in the Women’s Lightweight race.

Oxford’s Lightweight Women.

If Cambridge were hoping that their Lightweight Men would succeed where the women had failed, they were disappointed, losing by 1 2/3 lengths in 6 minutes 49 seconds. However, overrating Oxford they never gave up and raced spiritedly to the finish.

The Lightweight Men’s race at 1750 metres.

I don’t believe it – Oxford have won again.

Writing in the race programme, Chris Dodd (who has seen ‘about forty’ Boat Races from the press launch) used his knowledge both as rowing historian and as a rowing journalist to produce some interesting thoughts on the Oxbridge heavyweight women getting equal funding with the men and their race moving to Boat Race Day proper in 2015. The men, in his view, ‘struggled for 180 years to make a really good, nail-biting contest of it for 4 miles and 374 yards’. He says that, until they received proper funding and professional coaching in the 1980s, the men were not fit enough to race the full distance. The result was a mad scramble to reach Hammersmith Bridge, by which point the winner usually emerged and the loser followed in their puddles in the long row to the finish. Chris says that this has now changed and the Boat Race ‘has come of age as a superb event’. He continues:

‘The women’s clubs now enjoy what the men have had since the late 1980s – sponsorship and professional coaching… Two major changes face them in 2015 and thereafter. The first is the distance and the second is the wholly different nature of the course…. It is a great thing that the women’s race is joining the men’s on Boat Race Day on the Tideway. What a shame it will be if we have to endure the years and years of procession from Hammersmith before the female race gets up to speed.’

Chris wrote this before the 2013 Henley Races. The results of the women’s events indicate that that we may well see ‘a procession’ in 2015 and beyond. Is two years enough time to avert this possibility? We will have to wait and see.

Forty years in a press launch. Chris Dodd (centre) on the Tideway.

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