The Oxford Men’s Trial Eights: Out Of The Strong Came Forth Swiftness*

Once, the final 18 Oxford Trialists got a silver medal. Nowadays, the tangible reward is sponsor’s kit.

9 December 2017

Tim Koch follows in a Dark Blue wake.

Following the previous day’s Cambridge Trial Eights, Oxford’s men took their turn to race competitively matched crews on the championship course. With only two returners from last year’s winning Blue Boat, Oxford has had to blood new talent and integrate a strong new batch of athletes from the junior world. Felix Drinkall, winner of the Great Britain Senior Trials alongside Tobias Schroder, stroked Strong, whilst Vassilis Ragoussis was the opposite number in Stable.

“Strong”’s blades outside their historic Tideway base, the old Clasper Boathouse, now owned by Westminster School Boat Club. The wooden handle is preferred by Bugajski at ‘6’.

Having won the toss, Stable called Surrey and both crews lined up below Putney Bridge under the guidance of Umpire John Garrett. The start gave little indication of what was to come as both crews got away cleanly. Strong clearly had a looser style which paid dividends almost immediately, as they worked a couple of seats advantage within 30 strokes and had eased out to half a length by Craven Cottage.

“Stable” (with the white tops) on Surrey, “Strong” (with the blue tops) on Middlesex. Passing Thames Rowing Club, “Strong” is in front.

Steering was to become a dominant topic for this encounter, as Garrett was repeatedly called into action; his first engagement was separating the two crews as they clashed around the final phase of the opening bend. Strong fared slightly better as they capitalised on their bend advantage to move out to nearly a length.

A clash at Barn Elms.
A warning at the Mile Post.

Stable recovered well to negate the bend and began to claw back the margin passing Harrods Depository. The distinctive green arches of Hammersmith Bridge appeared over the horizon as the crews drew level; aggressive steering from both coxes led to the boats meeting in mutual water once again.

Passing the Harrods buoy, “Stable” close the gap.
Close at Harrods.
Through Hammersmith Bridge.
“Strong”, stroked by Felix Drinkall.
A clash passing St Paul’s School.

The dynamic of the race was clearly defined by its intensity and fluidity as Strong held the repeated advances of Stable along the outside of the Surrey corner. Although they were warned by Garrett, Strong took half a length passing Chiswick Eyot and were straining to break clear a further 500m down the course.

The crews level with Chiswick Eyot.

The river conditions worsened as both crews struggled in the choppy water; another minor clash ensued, which led to Strong finally breaking clear passing the Bandstand. However, the race-ending blow was delivered just in front of Barnes Bridge; the call went up and Strong put in an impressive push which effectively ended any chance Stable had of recovering the deficit.

Rough water at Chiswick.
A push at Mortlake gave “Strong” a seemingly unassailable lead.
“Strong” in a comfortable position at Barnes Bridge.

The race continued as something of a procession, as Strong ran out two-length winners.

“Stable”, stroked by Vass Ragoussis, feel the pain.
Going to (but then past) the pub.
A nice result for “Strong” – though perhaps coach Sean Bowden would have preferred a closer verdict?
Victorious stroke, Felix Drinkall, and victorious cox, Anna Carbery.

Due to injuries, The Oxford Women’s Trials will not be held until 21 January.

* With apologies to Judges 14:14 (‘…. out of the strong came forth sweetness’).

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