11 April 2022
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch finds that his favourite Oxbridge rowing event has doubled in size.
Initially, it may seem surprising that twenty-five men’s Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ Boat Races took place before the first women’s contest was held last week. However, things do move slowly around the Cam and the Isis. The first Oxford – Cambridge Women’s Boat Race was in 1927, the first proper side-by-side race was in 1936, the event became annual in 1964 and Boat Race Day parity with the men only arrived in 2015.
On the academic front, Oxford awarded women full degrees from 1920 only – with Cambridge holding out until 1948. Further, limitations on the numbers of women students lasted at Oxford until 1957 and at Cambridge until 1960. Oxbridge obviously has its own glass ceiling – even though this particular transparent barrier is probably made of medieval stained glass and depicts the grisly fate of an early Christian martyr.
On the afternoon of Saturday, 2 April, the day before the youngsters did their thing, the first women’s and twenty-sixth men’s Veteran Boat Race took place from the traditional start at Putney to what the event inexplicably calls “Furnivall Steps”, the first steps upstream of Hammersmith Bridge on the Middlesex side. Whatever the nomenclature, the course is one where the two bends even out.
The Women’s Race
Both women’s crews were essentially “scratch” and neither had been out in their racing combinations before. When I started to cover the men’s race in 2013, the boys were just beginning to get properly organised and serious and, no doubt, many of their early races were just as random as this first women’s race was.
While the rules of the Vets’ Race demand a minimum age of 35 and an average of at least 42, the problems of COVID and of recruiting for a new event meant that the women agreed to be flexible on this. Thus, Cambridge was stroked by 24-year-old Sophie Paine, a youngster who only got her Blue last year – though the average age given in the programme was still 39. Oxford averaged five years older but did have 39-year-old double Olympic champion, Caryn Davies, at “7”.
The Men’s Race
Both crews had a wealth of hard, experienced competitors. Oxford, average age 44, average weight 93.53 kg, had three Olympians Including Silver Medalist, Gerritjan Eggenkamp. They earlier lost a fourth, three-times Gold Medalist Andy Triggs Hodge, to a positive COVID test. Cambridge, average age 44, average weight 90.71 kg, had managed to retain all four of their ex-Olympic oarsmen including two-times Gold Medalist, James Cracknell.
Rachel Quarrell had a better view than I and in her official report on the Boat Race website, she wrote:
Approaching Hammersmith Bridge, the long-threatened disaster struck, Oxford bow Robin Ejsmond-Frey clashing with Cambridge stroke Fred Gill, after which the Oxford bow-ball got stuck under Cambridge’s riggers forcing a stoppage. Floating entangled under Hammersmith Bridge the crews eventually started rowing again, Cambridge crossing the line first only to be told by Pinsent that they were disqualified, since he had been warning them (for some time) when the collision happened.
After the men’s race, I spoke to BBC commentator and 2004 Cambridge Blue, Wayne Pommen, who was in the umpire’s launch:
I was impressed with the Cambridge start, they got out to a 1/4 – 1/2 length pretty quickly and kept going right through… The Oxford crew looked tired and ragged and I thought that it was all over. But, before right Hammersmith Bridge, Cambridge seemed to hit a brick wall, they really slowed down, Oxford started coming through and I think that they knew that they had a chance. Then there was a big clash under the bridge (as Cambridge were being warned) and Cambridge were disqualified. The rules are quite clear, Oxford were coming through and Cambridge were not getting out of the way. It is fine if you are out of your water and leading but, if the other guys catch up, you’ve got to move – and Cambridge didn’t.
The BBC covered the men’s race as part of their practice. The result is not broadcast but it is available on YouTube.
A Missed Centenary
Despite their double loss, I have some good news for Cambridge. Officially, the score in the men’s veteran race is now Oxford 10, Cambridge 16. However, I have found that there was a 300-yard Oxford – Cambridge Vets race held at Henley immediately after the 1922 regatta. The Light Blues won and so could now put their score at 17. Also, this makes 2022 the Centenary Veteran’s Race, albeit with a break of 75-years between the first and second contests. However, there was also a break (of seven years) between the first and second Boat Races, 1829 and 1836.
That is more than enough Oxford and Cambridge rowing for now. HTBS has twenty-two posts tagged Boat Race 2022, which is wonderful, but I think that we need a rest from it. Other rowing is available.