Oxford win Boat Races

Even before they started, the 2015 Boat Races had written their name into the very fabric of British sport. The world had rightly sat up and taken notice that the Newton’s Women’s Boat Race had at last, taken its rightful place on the Tideway, alongside the BNY Mellon men’s contest. Saturday 11 April finally arrived and the banks thronged with over 250,000 spectators. Throughout the land, a TV audience of up to six million watched as, the two races produced emphatic victories for the Dark Blue favourites. The manner with which two sensational Oxford crews both won their contests befitted the excitement that surrounded this historic day.  The race-winning surges both came at unlikely moments – when the Oxford crews were apparently at a disadvantage. The Dark Blue women, led by the Olympic champion Caryn Davies struck early on round the outside of the first Middlesex bend. Their male counterparts, racing an hour later at 17:50, waited longer. Constantine Louloudis, the Oxford stroke did not pull the trigger until his boat was just on the apex of the Surrey bend.  Both bursts killed off their opponents. Though the Oxford women were very strong favourites, this was the Boat Race – and on the unpredictable waters of the Tideway where the slightest mistake could spell doom. So after only two minutes, when Davies had seemingly settled into a powerful rhythm that should take her crew to victory, the Oxford cox,  Jennifer Ehr, called for an extra, and dramatic, effort.  “The move that cleared us was the highlight of the race,” explained Maxie Scheske afterwards. The delighted Oxford bow woman saw her boat break contact with the Light Blues before Fulham football ground. Scheske, Davies and crew never let up and at the finish, they had a 19-second margin over Cambridge – the winning time of 19:45 was a sign of the outstanding quality of the Christine Wilson coached crew.  The burst that took Oxford’s men clear of Cambridge was perhaps even more dramatic. It came just after Hammersmith Bridge as the water cut up in a strong westerly head breeze – classic Sean Bowden territory. The veteran Oxford coach explained: “We had a general plan but you leave it to the guys to choose their moment and they got it just right.”  In a close race, Cambridge had briefly led and though the Light Blues were a quarter of a length down coming through Hammersmith, with the Surrey bend in their favour, it looked as though the race might swing their way. But Will Hakim, Oxford’s US cox sensed that Cambridge might be vulnerable. He called out: ‘1:19’ – the time of an excellent 500m piece that Oxford had posted in training on the GB Rowing Team’s Caversham course.  The impact was immediate. Louloudis raised the rate to 35 strokes a minute. The relentless rhythm of his crew never faltered as they surged away from Cambridge. The Light Blues had no answer. At the finish, with the Oxford women looking on, the Dark Blue margin of victory was six lengths in 17:35.  Thoughts of the recently departed Dan Topolski were never far from anybody’s mind. The legendary Oxford coach would have relished the victories of both men’s and women’s reserve crews too.  At the finish, the men and women of Cambridge had started to struggle with their own demons. The Light Blue women had ‘the best race we’ve done’: the Cambridge men perhaps less so. But those feelings will help to serve up another cracking event in 2016. The first page in the new history of ‘The Boat Races’ has been written in dark blue ink. Who knows what colour page two will be etched in?  By Martin Cross

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