11 March 2016
Some things improve with age and Tim Koch hopes that this applies to his report on the Oxford and Cambridge Veterans’ Race which took place two weeks ago on Saturday, 26 March, and which was an event worth recording.
I have previously described the 21-old contest between Oxford and Cambridge Old Blues with an average crew age of at least 42 as ‘The Retro Boat Race’. However, with kit from the era of Ladbrokes sponsorship (1976-1986) not seen anymore, I had thought that in recent years this still informal but increasingly serious event has become less ‘retro’ – until this year’s race decided to hark back to 1877.
Following the Putney to Hammersmith race in a launch, I had my usual problem of trying to take pictures while attempting to make physical and mental notes of what happened. Thus, I have stolen most of the excellent race report from the official boat races website and this appears here in italics. The BBC used the race to practice their coverage of the next day’s events. Though not broadcast, the recording they made can be seen on YouTube.
Oxford’s veterans, including Olympians Gerritjan Eggenkamp, Roberto Blanda, and stroke Barney Williams, won the toss and bravely chose Surrey. Up against them were Cambridge also with three Olympians – Matthew Parish, Guy Pooley and former lightweight Tom Middleton, while the coxes were international medallists and former Blues Zoe de Toledo (Oxford) and Henry Fieldman (Cambridge) respectively.
Both crews started with spirit, Cambridge at 45 and Oxford at 44, and the Light Blues stayed high-rating slightly longer, which gave them a couple of early seats. Oxford took these back as they settled into a solid race rhythm, and the initial dash along the moored boats was evenly matched. There was a brief warning for Oxford from umpire Matt Smith as they passed Chas Newens’ Marine, but there was nothing in the margin between the crews as they reached the Black Buoy.
The first big Cambridge push came soon afterwards, a couple of seats steadily stretching into half a length and then three-quarters as the crews neared Barn Elms. Just after Fulham Football Ground Fieldman was warned as his corner ran out, but it was clear Cambridge had the upper hand. At the Milepost, where Cambridge were two seconds up, Oxford stopped the rot and started to fight back. With both crews rating 33-34 and looking grimly determined, they dug in on relatively calm water and clawed the margin back to less than half a length. Smith’s umpire’s flag was needed to warn both crews, and it began to turn into a spectacular race.
A critical moment came just before the Depositary, when Cambridge were warned not to cut across the corner approaching Hammersmith Bridge, and their resulting steer gave Oxford the chance to push back nearly on terms. Two seats to Cambridge, one seat to Cambridge, more warnings for both crews, a slight touch of the oars as they knitted in and out of each other, and at Hammersmith Bridge it became a flat-out dogfight for the last minute.
The scramble to the finish line at Furnivall Steps, opposite British Rowing’s headquarters, was such a confusion that after stopping, nobody knew for certain who had won. The verdict was given as a canvas to the Cambridge veterans, announced by the Cambridge spares but suitably, for a six-foot margin, witnessed on the bank by Richard Phelps, Boat Race umpire and descendant of “Honest John” who adjudicated the famous 1877 dead-heat in the main race. Despite some disbelief in both boats that the gap was as much as six feet, and that such precision could be valid given the non-fixed start and approximate finish line, Cambridge were announced worthy winners to give them their 14th victory in the 21 years of the race.
Oxford – (average age 42, average weight 14st 7lb / 203lbs / 92.07kg)
Bow Hugh Pelham
2 Tom Anderson
3 Paul Berger
4 Roberto Blanda
5 Richard Manners
6 Toby Ayer
7 Gerritjan Eggenkamp
Stroke Barney Williams
Cox Zoe de Toledo
Cambridge – (average age 42, average weight 14st 8lb / 204lbs / 92.53kg)
Bow Tom Middleton
2 Sean Gorvy
3 Christopher Le Neve Foster
4 Guy Pooley
5 Toby Backhouse
6 David Gillard
7 Stephen Fowler
Stroke Matthew Parish
Cox Henry Fieldman
Milepost: Cambridge Veterans 3min 49sec, Oxford Veterans 3min 51sec.
Hammersmith: Both crews 6min 51sec, Cambridge leading
Finish: Both crews 7min 19sec, verdict to Cambridge by a canvas (6ft).