Tim Koch writes:
Perhaps some of those preparing to take part in the twentieth Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ Boat Race on Friday, 10 April would have had second thoughts about participating if they had read the warning in that day’s copy of the Independent newspaper:
Today could be the UK’s warmest day of the year so far as temperatures reach 22C but those heading outside are being warned of high pollution and dust from the Sahara…… The low air quality has sparked public health warnings for older people to avoid exercising outside.
Luckily, these veterans (or ‘masters’ as they should be both correctly and appropriately called) were unlikely to be felled by what the increasingly ridiculous Daily Express called ‘blood rain from the Sahara’. Most had rowed to a very high level in the past and most were still sculling or rowing on a regular basis. One uniquely qualified participant was the Cambridge ‘three’ man, former Australian rugby international, David Dix. He only rowed for his college while at university but he did win a Rugby Blue. He was clearly delighted to pull on a Cambridge rowing top, claiming that the sport was ‘his first love’.
Cambridge did have what appeared to be several small advantages; their average age was the race minimum of 42 as compared to Oxford’s 47, their average weight of 92kg was 1kg more than the opposition’s average and their crew members included four former Olympians while the Oxonians had two. However, with the Light Blue stern pair consisting of Bernd Heidicker and Sebastian Schulte, both from Germany’s World Championship winning eight of 2006, and the Dark Blue stern pair formed by Olympic medalists Barney Williams (Silver, 2004) at stroke and Jonny Searle (Gold, 1992) at seven, nothing was certain.
Perhaps more in deference more to their training commitments than their years, the Veterans’ Boat Race is not run over the full course but is raced on the Putney – Hammersmith stretch. With good conditions, umpire Winckless set the crews off from just above Hammersmith Bridge. However, within 30 strokes Oxford were four seats up and had increased this to eight up by Harrods. Soon there was clear water and the Dark Blues passed the Mile Post five seconds ahead. The gap widened but Cambridge never gave up and at the finish they had decreased Oxford’s lead to the official verdict of two-and-three-quarter lengths.
Afterwards, Oxford’s ‘seven’ man, Jonny Searle, said:
We knew that we were going to have a good row but we did not know how fast (Cambridge) were going to be. It was a case of seeing if our best was good enough to beat their best, and today it was.
The score now stands at 13 – 7 in favour of Cambridge. While the event is still the most informal and relaxed of the numerous Oxford – Cambridge rowing contests, it is perhaps slowly getting a little more serious – certainly kit from long past sponsors ‘Ladbrokes’ is no longer in evidence. On the subject of change, an obvious question this year is, how long is it before there is an Oxford – Cambridge Veteran Women’s Race?