Senior Moments: The 2022 Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ Races (Plural)

Ready for a practice start before the 26th Oxford – Cambridge Men’s Veteran Boat Race, Cambridge’s James Cracknell (left) adopts a posture traditionally associated with veterans, while Matt Parish (right) decides to sit up in the way that the young men do. Perhaps Matt’s sons have been coaching him?

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. 

The Bystander magazine of 5 April 1922 records another advance into Boat Race territory by the ladies – and makes an hilarious prediction.

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

Richard Phelps gives the Cambridge women a last (and probably first) briefing before they go out to 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. 

Cambridge emerging from Crabtree, the Tab’s alumni club. I apologise for the Light Blue bias in my pictures, it is partly because I was a guest of Cambridge and in their launch but also because Oxford seemed rather camera shy.

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”.

Cambridge had a good, high-rate start.
Oxford were not panicked by their opponent’s start and soon settled.
Before the end of Putney Embankment, Oxford had established a lead, but Cambridge maintained overlap. Parallax error gives Cambridge, as the boat nearest the following camera, the appearance of being ahead. Both crews rated 32-33.
Oxford kept the pressure on and established clear water by Barn Elms. They looked longer and more relaxed – as is common in leading crews.
Cambridge rowed shorter and more hurried – as is common in trailing crews.
Oxford approached the Mile Post around a length up. Mile Post times: Oxford 4 min 20 secs, Cambridge 4 min 24 secs.
Cambridge were perhaps thinking if this was really the good idea that it had originally seemed.
Oxford were perhaps thinking that they must do this again next year.
At Hammersmith Bridge, Oxford were over two lengths up.
The Dark Blues won by 2 3/4 lengths in a time of 8 minutes 29 seconds. Cambridge were an estimated 9 seconds behind.
Hopefully, the first of many Oxford – Cambridge Women’s Veteran crews. Picture: @emmaboggis.

The Men’s Race

Oxford ready for a practice start.
To the start. 

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.

Oxford went slightly up off the start, but Cambridge settled well and were half-a-length up before the end of Putney Embankment, the crews rating 36 – 37. Parallax error in these pictures makes the Cambridge lead look greater than it was.
Umpire Matt Pinsent was almost constantly warning the crews in the opening minutes.
From the end of the Embankment, Cambridge crept away from their rivals who tried but failed to respond.
Oxford approaching the flagman at the Mile Post.
Passing the Mile Post. Mile Post times: Cambridge 3 min 50 secs, Oxford 3 min 54 secs. By this point, Cambridge had just got clear water but their Middlesex Station advantage had run out.
As the bend moved in their favour, Oxford began to look more effective and reestablished overlap. In this picture, the Dark Blue’s cox, Peter Hackworth, may be suggesting to Cambridge counterpart, Ed Bosson, that he moves over.
A screenshot from the BBC coverage showing the approach to Hammersmith Bridge.
In the approach to the bridge, umpire Pinsent was constantly warning Cambridge but received little response.
Oxford stroke, Ante Kusurin, perhaps wonders what his opponents are up to.
Seconds after this picture was taken, a clash took place. Unfortunately, my view was blocked by the umpire’s launch.
A drone shot from the BBC coverage clearly shows Cambridge in the wrong.

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. 

All tangled up.
Oxford’s appeal was not needed, umpire Pinsent had no doubts.
Cambridge accepted Pinsent’s decision with good humour, even by James Cracknell, a highly competitive individual even by Blues’ standards. It is perhaps only what you would expect from an event that has the wonderful rule that “Any verdict within six feet shall be declared a dead heat”.

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.

A report on the 1922 Veterans Race from the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of 15 July 1922 claimed that “The form in the boats was an object lesson to the younger generation…” Some legendary names took part, many from what they would have called the “Golden Age of English Rowing”, the time before cheeky foreigners started to win things, the only rowing style was “orthodox” and the only rowlocks were “fixed”.

Finally…

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.

A Punch cartoon from the 1920s illustrates a still popular view.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.