22 December 2019
By William O’Chee
Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club President Arthur Arnould is in an enviable position. For much of the 44-year history of the Lightweight Boat Race, fortune has smiled on their light blue opponents, including a 14-year winning streak from 1978 to 1991. However, in 2019, the Lightweight Boat Race moved downstream from Henley to the Championship Course on the Tideway for the first time, and Oxford recorded a superb victory. In addition, the Oxford Lightweight programme has become one of the best in the UK, and 2019 squad capped off their successes with a silver medal in the LM4- at the EUSA Rowing Championships in September in Sweden.
November saw the top two OULRC crews beat their Cambridge rivals at the Tideway Fours Head, as well as outpacing a number of the Oxford heavyweight crews. The Oxford Lightweight squad has also posted what Arnould insouciantly describes as “rather fast” ergometer times, although he is reluctant to provide much more detail than that.
With the Oxford squad ensconced on the placid waters at Wallingford, last week’s OULRC trial eights race on the Tideway provided pundits with a rare opportunity to see how well this year’s squad is putting it all into effect on the water.
The race saw two eights, Brains and Brawn, race along the Boat Race course and experience the difficult conditions often faced by boats on the Tideway. A strong westerly wind meant that the crews raced into a headwind for large sections of the course. The wind-against-stream phenomenon resulted in choppy water with standing waves and therefore the OULRC Trial VIII’s race, preceded by similar events for CUWL, OUWL and CUL, was moved forwards following recommendations from the umpire as conditions worsened throughout the afternoon.
Brawn, wearing white baselayers, won the toss and chose the Surrey station, leaving Brains, in navy baselayers, with Middlesex. The two crews drew up beside one another before Putney Bridge and drifted through the central arch together before being aligned for the start.
The boats were set off swiftly by Umpire Kath Finucane and immediately faced tough water in the exposed section of river coming past Putney Embankment. Both boats powered away from the line, but Brains were the tidier crew and began taking seats early on. They continued to deal with the conditions more successfully than Brawn and edged further ahead, gaining a clear water advantage by Craven Cottage.
Both crews benefited from the shelter of Harrods Depository to settle into good rhythms and advanced at similar speeds in the flatter water. However, around the Surrey bend, the conditions worsened, and Brains once again had the speed advantage, pulling away further. The final result was a win for the crew on the Middlesex station with a convincing margin of clear water – proof in this case of the traditional lightweight adage that brains are better than brawn.
The Oxford Lightweights return to camp in the first week of January, hopeful of building on this for their race against Cambridge on March 15, 2020.