9 January 2017
Tim Koch reports on the Cambridge Women’s Trial Eights held on 12 December 2016, a missive delayed by the Christmas holidays. A piece on the Cambridge Men’s Trials follows tomorrow.
As hearing the ‘first cuckoo’ marks the approach of spring, so the Oxford and Cambridge Trial Eights herald the coming of Boat Race Day. HTBS has already reported on the Oxford Men’s and Oxford Women’s Trials held on 30 November, and it was noted that these were intra-boat-club contests in which ‘the last 16 rowers and last two coxswains who are candidates for each of the men’s and women’s Blue Boats battle it out, usually in theoretically matched crews, all hoping to impress the coach, who has to make the final selection’. Faced with my usual inability to take notes and photographs at the same time, I have interspersed the race reports from the official website with my pictures and captions. For those unfamiliar with the ‘Championship Course’, a guide is here.
As most Londoners were beginning their dreaded Monday morning commute, the Cambridge rowing squads faced the dark winter’s morning for their land training on the banks of the Thames. By dawn, (the crews) were fully warmed up and ready to face the day’s challenge of Trial VIIIs.
First to take to the Tideway were (the women) who faced suspicious looking, murky skies though fortunately the rain stayed at bay. An unseasonably mild December morning with not a breath of wind resulted in good racing conditions.
In boats named after two men that held a special place in the heart of the club, Hallam (Ed Hallam was a lead strength and conditioning coach who died last summer) and Needs (Ron Needs was a legendary Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and GB coach who also died earlier in 2016), it was the latter that won the coin toss, opting for the Surrey station. Under the expert eye of Sarah Winckless who will also umpire The 2017 Cancer Research UK Women’s Boat Race, both crews spun onto stations and paddled together to the start positions before getting away cleanly at 09.50.
Coming past the Putney boathouses, Hallam sat at 2 seats up with their lead stretching to ¾ of a length as they took the advantage past Fulham. Needs took a push and checked Hallam’s progress at a length, the margin maintained as the crews approached the start of the Surrey end. Hallam remained in a strong position on the outside of the bend but both crews were warned as they fought for the best water, before Hallam pushed out the advantage to ½ length clear and were warned again for trying to cut in front of Needs too early.
With 1 length clear, Hallam looked to be rowing in longer rhythm than Needs and pressed on, increasing their advantage to almost 2 lengths clear as they passed Hammersmith.
Both crews took the fastest water in the middle of the river past the bandstand with Needs holding Hallam at 2 lengths clear under Barnes Bridge.
Both crews then increased the rate with 500 to go leading to Hallam gaining an extra ½ length. Passing the university post, Hallam finished 3 lengths clear, with both crews collapsing as the umpire confirmed the final result.
A three length win is probably exactly what the coaches do not want in a trial race. A closer result (as the Oxford women achieved) arguably shows more ‘strength in depth’. However, after failing to predict the outcome of both a recent referendum and a presidential election, I am going to echo John Snagge’s famous piece of Boat Race commentary – on 2 April, it’s either Oxford or Cambridge.
The 163rd Boat Race and the 72nd Women’s Boat Race will take place on Sunday, 2 April. The Cancer Research UK Women’s Boat Race will start at 16:35, with The Cancer Research UK Boat Race an hour later at 17:35.