SWIMMER DISRUPTS BOAT RACE
Dramatic events at 158th Oxford-Cambridge University boat race: race halted, clash between crews, Oxford break oar and crew member collapses.
Spectators were deprived of seeing a potentially thrilling finale to a classic dual between Oxford and Cambridge by the actions of a swimmer who forced the Umpire to call a halt to proceedings as the crews came into the final bend.
Oxford held a slight advantage as the crews headed into the final bend at Barnes Bridge, when a swimmer became entangled in the oars of the Oxford boat. The Umpire had no choice but to call a halt and the race was re-started from the half-way point after a delay of just over 30 minutes.The last time the race had to be re-started was 2001.
From the start, the race looked like being a thriller – and so it turned out!
Oxford were favourites to repeat last year’s success and powered away from the start aiming to take full advantage of the opening bend, which favoured their Middlesex Station. They started to pull clear but, surprisingly, Cambridge doggedly held on.
Having won the toss, Cambridge had opted for the Surrey Station, which has the advantage of the long (nearly 2 mile) bend but favoured Oxford in the early stages of the race. As Oxford attempted to take full advantage of the first bend they looked as if they were going to capture a decisive early lead, which would have left them able to move over and steal Cambridge’s water. But Cambridge refused to let them get away and, as the bend turned in their own favour, it was their turn to pull up alongside Oxford and move ahead. By Hammersmith Bridge, Cambridge looked as if they were going to put their own stamp on the race. But this time it was the turn of Oxford to refuse to give in.
The two crews were fighting it out neck and neck with a thrilling finale in prospect as the bend turned back in Oxford’s favour.
Then, out of nowhere, the swimmer appeared. As he started to dodge between Oxford’s oars, the Umpire had no choice but to halt the race and have the intruder removed from the scene.
The race was re-started from the half-way point. This time, Oxford pulled half a length clear when a clash left their number six man, Hanno Wienhausen with a broken oar.
At that point the race was over and Cambridge pulled clear to win.
However, the drama wasn’t quite over as Oxford bow man, Alexander Woods, required medical attention after appearing to collapse after the race, reportedly because of exhaustion. Fortunately he recovered although the trophy presentation was delayed while medics attended to him.
THE OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE BOAT RACE: “THE BOAT RACE”
Saturday 2-15 pm, April 7th 2012: the start of the 158th Boat Race between crews from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.
First raced in 1829, the Boat Race is one of the oldest sporting events in the world and since 1836 the contest has taken place in London; prior to that the race was held in Henley on Thames. Cambridge lead the series with 80 victories to Oxford’s 76, with one dead heat in 1877.
Watched by thousands along the banks of the Tideway, between Putney and Mortlake – and by millions more on TV around the world – the Boat Race is a unique sporting event.
The race is for heavyweights only. The race is for “Eights” – 8 rowers with a cox steering and no restrictions on weight. Female coxes are permitted, the first to appear in the Boat Race being Sue Brown for Oxford in 1981.
The Boat Race is an annual contest that takes place close to Easter each year on the River Thames in London from Putney to Mortlake between two rowing crews from Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
It all started in 1829 when Charles Merivale, a student at St John’s College, Cambridge, challenged his old schoolfriend Charles Wordsworth, then at Oxford, to a race. Two crews from each University battled it out on the Thames at Henley on Thames.
After a gap of some years, a second race was held 1836 but this time the venue was moved from Henley to Westminster, with the course running from Westminster to Putney. Over the next few of years, there was an ongoing disagreement over where the race should be held. Cambridge preferred London and Oxford preferred Henley.
As they couldn’t agree, Cambridge therefore raced against the Leander Club in 1837 and 1838. Following the formation of the Oxford University Boat Club, racing between the two universities resumed and the tradition continues to the present day, with the loser challenging the winner to a re-match in the following year.
The course runs from Putney Bridge upstream to Mortlake, just below Chiswick Bridge. It is 4 miles and 374 yards (6.779 kilometres) long and follows an S-shape, East to West.
Although the race is rowed upstream, it is timed to start on the incoming flood tide so that the crews are rowing with the fastest possible current. However. if a strong wind is blowing from the West it can be against the tide in some places along the course, causing the water to become very rough.
The start and finish are marked by two stones on the South bank of the river – the University Boat Race Stones. The Presidents of the two University rowing clubs toss a coin (an 1829 sovereign) before the race for the right to choose which side of the river, or “station”, they will row on.
Their decision is based on the day’s forecast weather conditions and how the various bends in the course will affect their crew’s rowing style and tactics. The North station, called the Middlesex Station, has the advantage over the first and last bends; the South (Surrey) Station has the advantage over the long middle bend. The crew on the Surrey station has won 10 out of the 15 races between 1994 and 2008.
The race starts from two stake boats moored so that the bows of the boats are in line with the University Stone at Putney, which is set into the towpath on the South bank of the river, a few metres below Putney Bridge. There is an equivalent stone set into the bank at the finish of the race at Mortlake, next to The Ship public house.
The Coxes of the two crews raise their arms while their crews are getting into position. When both crews are ready, the coxes lower their arms and the Umpire starts the race by waving a red flag.
Given the tidal nature of the river, the coxes aim to steer their boats towards the fastest parts of the river, where the current flows most strongly. This tends to be at the deepest part of the river. As both crews are vying for the same position, there can be a frequent clash of blades, followed by warnings from the Umpire.
The crew that gets a lead of more than a boat’s length in front of their rival, can cut in front. This makes it extremely difficult for the trailing crew to overtake and gain the lead. For this reason the tactics of the race are generally to go fast early on and few races have a change of the lead after the half-way mark. However, such a change has occurred on a few recent occasions, in 2003, 2007 and 2010 for example.
The Boat Race has a tradition of proceeding even in conditions where a traditional regatta would be cancelled – which means that in really rough weather, there is a real possibility of a boat sinking.
Several races have featured one, or both, of the crews sinking. This happened to Cambridge in 1859 and 1978 and to Oxford in 1925 and 1951. On 31 March 1912, both boats sank and the race was held again on 1 April. On 24 March 1951, Oxford sank and the race was rescheduled for 26 March, when Cambridge won.In 1984, Cambridge sank after crashing into a stationary barge while warming up before the race.
The race starts just above Putney bridge and finishes just below Chiswick Bridge at Mortlake. During the course of the race, the crews row under two of the Thames bridges – Hammersmith and Barnes Railway Bridge.
Some Interesting facts
Previous courses: most of the race’s history has involved a race from Putney to Mortlake but 3 other courses have been used at one time or another.
- 1829 The first race was held at Henley on Thames
- 1839 to 1842 The race was run from Westminster to Putney
- 1846, 1856, 1862, 1863: the race was run downstream, from Mortlake to Putney
There were 4 unofficial boat races held during the Second World War. These were held away from London:
- 1940 Henley-on-Thames
- 1943 Sandford on Thames
- 1944, 1945 River Great Ouse at Ely.
As none of those competing were awarded blues, these races are not included in the official list.
Associated races: although the heavyweight men’s eights are the main draw, the two universities compete in other rowing boat races. The main boat race is preceded by a race between the two reserve crews – Isis for Oxford and Goldie for Cambridge.
The women’s eights, women’s reserve eights, men’s lightweight eights and women’s lightweight eights all race at the Henley regatta, usually a week before the men’s heavyweight races. There is also a veterans boat race (the 2012 race is shown below) which is usually held on a weekday before the main Boat Race, on the Thames between Putney and Hammersmith. The women’s boat race will be moving to the Tideway in 2015.
Mutinies: there have been 2 mutinies that have attracted media attention – in 1959 and 1987, both involving Oxford crews.
1959 Oxford Mutiny: in Autumn 1958, Oxford had a large and talented squad, including 11 returning Blues plus Yale oarsmen Reed Rubin and Charlie Grimes, a gold medallist at the 1956 Olympics. Ronnie Howard was elected OUBC President by the College Captains, beating Rubin.
Following Ronnie Howard’s decision to appoint HRH “Jumbo” Edwards as coach, there was a split in the team, with a number of dissidents announcing that they wanted to form a separate crew. Ronnie Howard won a vote of confidence and eventually the matter was settled with Oxford going on to win by 6 lengths.
1987 Oxford Mutiny: another disagreement amongst the Oxford team following a conflict between coach Dan Topolski and a number of top class American oarsmen over his training and selection methods. This came to a head with a number of them refusing to row when a fellow American was dropped in preference for the Scottish President, Donald Macdonald. This eventually led most of the Americans withdrawing from the crew, six weeks before the race was due to start.
To everyone’s surprise, Oxford, with a crew partially composed of oarsmen from the reserve team, went on to win the race.
A major contributing factor was Topolski’s tactic, communicated to the cox while the crews were at the start, for Oxford to take shelter from the rough water in the middle of the river at the start of the race, ignoring conventional wisdom that the centre stream is the fastest even if rowing conditions are poor.
Topolski wrote a book on the incident , entitled True Blue: the Oxford Boat Race Mutiny, and a movie was released in 1996 based on the book. Ali Gill, who had been a member of the university women’s Boat Club at the time of the mutiny, wrote a book The Yanks at Oxford to put the other side of the story. Reported facts of the Mutiny still differ greatly.
Women coxes: Sue Brown was the first woman to compete in the men’s race as cox in the Oxford boat in 1981, when Oxford went on to win. Sue was also a member of the crew in 1982 when Oxford won again.
Statistics: the detailed nature of the record-keeping over the event’s history has many record statistics being carefully monitored. A selection of the more frequently cited statistics includes:
Cambridge: 80 wins
Oxford: 76 wins
Dead heats: 1
Most consecutive victories: Cambridge, 13 (1924–36)
Cambridge Reserves (Goldie): 29 wins
Oxford Reserves (Isis): 17 wins
Course record: Cambridge 1998: 16 minutes, 19 seconds
Heaviest crew: Oxford 2009, 15 stone 9 lbs 13 oz (99.7 kg)