Blue v Orange

The probable Oxford Women’s Blue Boat for 29 March. Their names are here.

13 March 2020

By Tim Koch

Like Lili Marlene, Tim Koch stands underneath the lamppost, though this one is second from the Surrey buttress on Hammersmith Bridge.

On 8 March, the Oxford Women’s Blue Boat raced a crew from the Amsterdam student club, Nereus, over parts of the Championship Course as part of their Boat Race preparations. An edited official report is below in bold italics and I took pictures from Hammersmith Bridge.

Despite the rainy conditions and the fast flow of the Thames the crews boated from Imperial College Boathouse and headed upriver for the first of three pieces.

The first piece was a 3-minute piece starting at Chiswick Steps and finishing just before Hammersmith Bridge. Oxford on the Surrey Bank and Nereus taking their place at the Middlesex Bank; this therefore gave the turn advantage to Oxford. As the piece started it was Nereus who were quicker off the mark and established an early lead. However, this was short lived as the Oxford crew used the turn to their advantage to mount an attack for the lead. This caused Oxford to be warned by the umpire multiple times and ended with a minor blade clash between the two crews. The outcome of the first piece, a win for Oxford by 1 boat length.

The first race, passes Latymer School. Oxford (left) lead Nereus (right).
A warning for Oxford from the umpire, Claire Briegal, towards the end of the first race at Dove Pier (aka Hammersmith Pier).
Oxford and Nereus paddle under Hammersmith Bridge to turn and return to Chiswick Steps and start the second piece.

The second piece, from Chiswick Steps to the Mile Post, covered greater distance by the crews and therefore requiring tactics and good pacing. Oxford were given the Surrey Bank with Nereus (on) Middlesex… Nereus took an early lead off the start before being reeled in by Oxford. Nereus were still the leaders as the crews entered the first turn. Oxford used the advantage bend and a big push to gain on the Dutch team. Oxford then proceeded to sit roughly quarter length in front where that distance remained for the duration of the middle section of the race. As the final turn emerged and Hammersmith Bridge came into view Oxford put in another push to leave Nereus in dirty water from their blades and confirm their second win of the day by ¼ length of open water.

The second race passes Sons of the Thames.
Passing Dove Pier.
Oxford ahead at the finish at Hammersmith Bridge.

The crews remained on the same sides of the river for the third and final piece but for the first time in the fixture, the course was in the favour of Nereus. Racing from Hammersmith Bridge to Putney boathouses, the piece began with a rolling start that was marred by a misunderstanding which meant that the crews didn’t start at the same time. The bulk of the advantage to Nereus was taken early because they went first. Oxford fought back strongly after the early disadvantage, making ground on the outside of the Fulham bend and had regained a canvas overlap by the Town Buoy (aka Black Buoy), where the race ended.

Thus, the Oxford women beat Nereus in all three pieces, by 1 length, 1/4 length and a canvas. Three weeks earlier, the Cambridge women had also beaten the Dutch students in two races, their wins by 2 lengths and 1/2 length. It was not the same Nereus crew in both fixtures. The above report says that the crew that raced Oxford was ‘the Nereus 1st Eight, who have all won medals at U23 level including four athletes from the 2019 U23 World Champion Eight’. From the little I saw from Hammersmith Bridge, I am surprised that this is allegedly the very powerful Nereus’s best women’s eight; my pictures are flattering but their bladework looked scrappy at times – as did Oxford’s.

Oxford in a recovery paddle.

On Sunday, 15 March, the Oxford Women should race the final Boat Race fixture of 2020 against the University of London. At Quintin Head on 25 January, UL were 12-seconds faster than Oxford, winning their category in 15 minutes 2 seconds, so it will be interesting to see if the Dark Blues have picked up speed since then (though, of course, UL may be going faster as well).

Nature is currently reminding us how puny humans are. The Women’s Head of the River Race, due to be held over the Mortlake to Putney course on 7 March, was cancelled due to dangerous river conditions resulting from ‘biblical’ amounts of rainfall over the last few weeks.

Some of the top women’s crews have been offered places at the (men’s) Head of the River Race (HoRR) which will (hopefully) run on 21 March. This is good news for the women but sad that the men’s race has so many spare places to offer. In similar circumstances last year, 100 places in the HoRR were offered to those who had hoped to race the Women’s Head. Then there is Coronavirus…

Sadly, we have to acknowledge that Boat Race crews could be training in vain. The situation with Coronavirus changes hourly. Previously, only the two World Wars have stopped the Battle of the Blues; 2020 may make Boat Race history for all the wrong reasons.

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