28 February 2018
Tim Koch finds that there are not many light Blues in the Boat Race.
Weigh-ins are not a normal prelude to heavyweight rowing contests – perhaps their best-known use is in the sport of boxing. Most famously, before an important fight, two pugilists will confront each other, eyeball to eyeball, giving the impression that blows would be traded there and then were they not held back by their respective unsavoury entourages. Also, boxers often indulged in ‘trash-talk’, bouts of competitive incivility when each will, for example, outline the deficiencies of their opponent’s maternal heritage. However, the 2018 Cancer Research UK Boat Races weigh-in and crew announcement held at London’s City Hall on 26 February was a rather more civilised affair.
While they are pleasant enough media events, Boat Race weigh-ins produce few surprises, and they lack the uncertainty of an occasion in which two men that have been hit in the head too often confront each other. Those who had followed the Fixture Races over the last few weeks had already guessed at most of those who made the crews that will race in the 164th Men’s Boat Race and the 73rd Women’s Boat Race on 24 March. We were not shocked to discover that the rowers were taller and heavier than the average person of their sex, while the coxswains were shorter and lighter than most adults. None of the coaches admitted that they thought their opponents were better, and all implied that their crews would win.
This year’s Blues
The men’s statistics are that Cambridge are heavier and taller than Oxford, the Light Blues at 89.8kg and 195 cm per man, while the Dark Blues are at 85.6kg and 189 cm.
Oxford has three returning Blues. Powerhouse Joshua Bugajski and stroke Vassilis Ragoussis both raced in last year’s winning crew, whilst Will Geffen competed in 2015. Anders Weiss, a former U.S. Olympian, is new to the Oxford Blue Boat. The nationalities are five Brits, one each South African, American and German, and one British/Greek. The line-up is Vassilis Ragoussis (S), Claas Mertens (7), Joshua Bugajski (6), Will Geffen (5), Anders Weiss (4), Will Cahill (3), Felix Drinkall (2), Iain Mandale (B), Zachary Thomas Johnson (Cox).
Cambridge also has three returners from last year’s crew: Hugo Ramambason (President and cox), James Letten (much improved from last year) and Freddie Davidson, this year at stroke. Former Yale University Captain, Robert Hurn, joins the crew which contains four Brits, three Americans, one French/British, and one Bermudian/British/American/Iranian. Cambridge will boat Freddie Davidson (Stroke), Rob Hurn (7), Finn Meeks (6), Spencer Furey (5), James Letten (4), Dara Alizadeh (3), Charles Fisher (2), Patrick Elwood (Bow), Hugo Ramambason (Cox).
Full details of the men’s crews are here.
As with the men, the Cambridge women are the heavier and taller of the two crews, weighing 73.0kg and 179 cm per woman compared to Oxford’s 70.9kg and 175 cm.
Cambridge’s crew features several Old Blues from previous Boat Race campaigns including Thea Zabell, Imogen Grant, Alice White and Myriam Goudet-Boukhatmi. The 2015 World Champion in the quad, American Olivia Coffey, joins the crew in the stroke seat. Four Britons, two Americans, one each of German, French, and British/New Zealander make up the crew: Olivia Coffey (Stroke), Myriam Goudet-Boukhatmi (7), Alice White (6), Paula Wesselmann (5), Thea Zabell (4), Kelsey Barolak (3), Imogen Grant (2), Tricia Smith (Bow), Sophie Shapter (Cox).
Oxford have only one returning Blue, Alice Roberts, but former Princeton University scholar, Sara Kushma, and U.S. lightweight international, Morgan McGovern, provide experience and power in the middle of the crew. Nationalities are four Britons, two Americans, one Dutch, one Australian, and one American/British. The line-up is Beth Bridgman (Stroke), Abigail Killen (7), Sara Kushma (6), Morgan McGovern (5), Alice Roberts (4), Juliette Perry (3), Katherine Erickson (2), Renée Koolschijn (Bow), Jessica Buck (Cox).
Full details of the women’s crews are here.
Alongside the usual business of the weigh-in and announcement of the crews, a new initiative was introduced by The Boat Race company BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management in association with Fulham Reach Boat Club. The Future Blues programme is a long-term partnership to improve access to rowing for schools in the four West London boroughs that the Boat Race course passes through.
Thanks to a £3 million grant from St. George, the developers of the new apartments on the Middlesex bank just upstream of Hammersmith Bridge, and the support of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, FRBC became operational in 2014, complete with boathouse, pontoon, ergometers and a fleet of 18 new boats.
In the academic year 2016/17, FRBC gave 1000 children the experience of rowing on the Thames with a 57% female and 49% Black, Asian or Minority Ethnicity participation. Of all of those who tried rowing, 80% said that they wanted to continue with it, and 68% said that they were more interested in sport generally after their time on the river. Teachers have reported many examples of improved communication and team working skills by students that have done the rowing course.
Initially, the Future Blues programme will aim to create competitive, sustainable boat clubs within the 12 local schools in Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F), a plan that FRBC already has well underway. In the long term, the idea is to replicate what FRBC is doing in Hammersmith in the three other neighbouring London boroughs (Wandsworth, Hounslow and Richmond) and to get rowing established in each of the 52 schools (containing 50,000 students) that border the whole Boat Race course. This would increase the total number of school rowing clubs in the UK by 50%, challenging the numerical dominance of the private school clubs.
An article in the Daily Telegraph of 26 February on the Future Blues initiative quoted FRBC’s CEO, Steve O’Connor, an ex-captain of London Rowing Club and one of the driving forces behind both Fulham Reach and Future Blues:
Rowing requires access to boats, to clubs, coaching and knowledge. The state school sector just doesn’t have the budgets and we are trying to plug that gap. It’s such a unique sport with unique benefits and those who do not have the opportunity are losing out by not taking part. It fosters teamwork, confidence and communication, focus, as well as ambition and competition. Teamwork is the USP of rowing.
Detailed future plans are on the FRBC website.
As a declaration of interest, I am currently coaching professionally at Fulham Reach Boat Club, but all views are my own. T.K.