2012 – Possibly the most dramatic Boat Race ever

Official race report – http://www.theboatrace.org

One hundred years after both crews sank; this was set to be an even more dramatic University Boat Race.

In the weeks preceding The 158th Boat Race in the series and the last to be sponsored by Xchanging, it had been Oxford who had shown the most impressive form, defeating an under 23 German crew, Leander very convincingly and Molesey Boat Club. Cambridge on the other hand didn’t look so impressive against either Leander or Molesey and despite having 7.9Kg per man weight advantage went into the Race as underdogs.

Neither crew could boast a host of returning Blues, only the two Presidents; Dave Nelson bow in the Light Blue Boat and Karl Hudspith, 5 for Oxford. Cambridge’s Mike Thorp also raced in 2011, vowing to grow his hair until his defeat was avenged.

Coaches Steve Trapmore, in only his second race at Cambridge, and Sean Bowden in his 14th for Oxford, both worked with international line-ups but it was Bowden who had looked and sounded more confident in the build-up to the Race.

Having enjoyed relatively benign weather in the weeks and days preceding the Race, the started overcast and drizzly with a light NE wind, and while the sun briefly appeared for the Isis/Goldie race, that was largely how it remained.

In the toss for stations it was Cambridge picking tails who chose the Surrey station, hoping to take advantage of the long bend mid-way through the Race. This entire preamble counts for nothing though in this, perhaps the most dramatic of all Boat Races.

Off the start it was Oxford who looked slicker at 44 strokes a minutes, slightly over-rating Cambridge and taking an early ¼ length lead. They couldn’t break an indomitable Cambridge crew however, who had won the toss and chosen the Surrey station.

By the Mile Post which was reached in a fast time of 3 minutes 42 seconds the dark blues still only had the narrowest of leads and as the two crews settled into their racing rhythms and with continual warnings from the umpires launch to “move apart” there was no advantage to either.

And this was how the race proceeded with neither crew giving any quarter, Oxford holding on around the outside of the Surrey bend but unable to move away from the light blues as they raced under Hammersmith Bridge and on towards Chiswick Eyot. With the wind now behind them and both crews showing great heart and determination it was shaping up to be a truly fantastic race.

And then suddenly with Oxford primed to put in a push on the outside of the bend turning into the Crossing, Oxford cox Zoe De Toledo shot her hand in the air to be followed quickly by John Garrett the Umpire waving his red flag stopping the race. Amid some confusion on the river a swimmer who would have been mown down by the flotilla of following boats if the race had continued, was spotted between the two crews. Later Garrett explained how his assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent had spotted the swimmer and that there was absolutely no choice but to stop the Race.

After 20 minutes Garrett (who had disqualified Isis in 1990) got the Race restarted, but it was cold and uncomfortable for the crews, needing to maintain their composure in very bouncy water while boats swarmed around them. Nothing like this had happened in the history of The Boat Race, but the drama was to continue after the restart. With a free start towards the bottom of Chiswick Eyot Oxford were off sharply again slipping out to a ¼ length lead in the first few strokes.

Then just 35 seconds into the restarted race Oxford on the outside of the bend were continuously warned to move away from Cambridge.  This they failed to do and a clash was inevitable. A clash in which the Dark Blues came out the worst and which cost them the race as Hanno Weinhausen six in the Oxford crew emerged from it with no spoon on the end of his blade.

Effectively the Race was over and Cambridge moved steadily away from the 7 man Oxford crew over the next few minutes to win by 4 and a quarter lengths, times to be confirmed.

Despite the Oxford crew’s appeal at the end of the Race Umpire Garrett declared Cambridge the winner. But the drama wasn’t quite over Alex Woods Oxford’s bow man had collapsed after crossing the finish line and was lying unconscious in the boat, having given everything to prevent his team’s loss. Cambridge President David Nelson seemed bemused and described the Race in his laconic fashion as “pretty dramatic” while expressing his concern for his Dark Blue rival.

Race Umpire John Garrett explained his decision to allow the race to continue after the clash, “Crews have to abide by their accidents. I was warning Oxford at the time of the clash, as they were off station. I was comfortable Cambridge were in the right place on the river, so it was right and within the rules to allow the Race to continue.”

After the Race there was no presentation ceremony as both sides showed their concern for Woods who was taken to Charing Cross hospital immediately afterwards, where he was recovering well a short time later.

This was a truly dramatic afternoon of sport, one in which the Umpire was adjudged to have made all the correct decisions in an unprecedented race, and in which many people probably didn’t notice that Ed Bosson had become the youngest ever winning Cambridge cox.

Report by Peter McConnell