The 2016 Cancer Research UK Boat Race Press Conferences took place at the BT Media Centre in Putney this morning, with representatives from all four clubs arriving to face questions from the assembled media. With the racing a little over 48 hours away, the crews are entering the final stages of preparation.
Oxford University Boat Club were the first to take to the floor, with coach Sean Bowden, President Morgan Gerlak and Cox Sam Collier.
Bowden was immediately asked about his crews preparations ahead of forecasted bad weather on Sunday. “It doesn’t affect our preparation in terms of our style, but we need to think tactically,” he explained. “There will be a few things that we need to do a little differently and it’ll probably have a pretty big impact on the race, but we’re ready to go.”
Morgan Gerlak, who is the only American in the Oxford Blue Boat, also gave his pre-race thoughts.
“Everyone is pretty excited for the Race,” said the 23 year old. “We’ve had a great build-up and our preparation has gone as well as it could have gone.”
The American also spoke about returning Blue Jamie Cook’s influence on proceedings. “Jamie is the only returning Blue and his experience has been really valuable for us. To be fair, all the guys who have been racing in the squad over the past couple of years are great in bringing the new athlete through.”
Sam Collier, who previously steered schoolboy crews at Hampton, was reticent about the expected conditions. “In terms of the weather, it’s as Sean said – there are some tactical elements to be considered but the stream is fixed and you just have to deal with your given hand on Race day” Collier said.
Oxford University Women’s Boat Club followed their male counterparts into the media centre, with Coach Christine Wilson, President Maddy Badcott and Cox Morgan Baynham-Williams taking up the hot-seats.
Wilson was excited to return to the Tideway. “It’s good to be back with the helpful experiences of last year,” the Canadian explained. “When I reflect on the training and preparation, it’s still a bit surprising to me that we’ve only spent 25% of our time in London. Unfortunately, that is the logistical nature of student lives but it’s a shame that we cannot get more time on the Tideway.”
Morgan Baynham Williams, who coxed at Leander before enrolling at Oxford, was asked about the differences between her work in the driving seat of international crews and the Blue Boat. “The answer is very different,” she said. “Most of my racing has come in been in a straight line – you don’t have the corners and streams and conditions that the Boat Race presents you with. The Tideway is a living, breathing thing and it’s always changing. It always keeps you on your toes and I have a lot more to do than in a 2000m race.”
President Maddy Badcott was questioned about the dynamic between her and Anastasia Chitty, who led the crew to their first Tideway win in 2015. “It’s been incredibly helpful for me to have Anastasia around,” said Badcott. “She’s got so much knowledge and experience at the top level of racing. She’s firmly in tune with the spirit and impulses of the race, having raced at Dorney, Henley and now on the Tideway, and it’s great to have someone like her to back me up.”
Next, it was the turn of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club. Coach Rob Baker, President Hannah Roberts and Cox Rosemary Ostfeld took their turns to be questioned by the assembled media. This will be Baker’s fourth year as coach of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and he spoke about the speed his crew have gained in the past couple of weeks. “We’ve had a really good last 10 days,” he said. “We came down here last Wednesday and, with every session, the boat is getting faster. That’s really encouraging for us. We’ve changed quite a lot this year – we’re naturally always trying to get the best out of individuals within the crew to build a collective boat.”
Hannah Roberts raced with Blondie last year and is in the rare position of adopting presidency in her maiden year within the Blue Boat. “Last year I spent some time as the spare for the top crew so I was aware of the extra preparation that goes into the Blue Boat,” she explained. “The psychological difference is very noticeable due to the higher levels of interest. Both crews share the common goal of producing their best performance on the day though.”
Ostfeld has a vast range of experience within the Boat Race, having coxed Goldie in 2014 before steering the women’s Blue Boat last year. “Every year I have the same desire to win,” said the 27 year old. “That’s what this race is all about, producing a race which can maximise our potential. The aim is always the same and my returning to race again doesn’t change that.”
Cambridge University Men’s Squad were the final trio to answer questions in Putney, with Coach Steve Trapmore, President Henry Hoffstot and Cox Ian Middleton representing the club at the conference. Within that group there was several years of experience, with this being Hoffstot and Middleton’s third race.
Trapmore was the first to be quizzed. When asked about his crew’s preparation, his answer was short. “Perfect,” he exclaimed. “We came down a few weeks ago to Race a fixture with the German U23 crew, which was very useful. It provided a great platform to build on and we’ve been training both here and at Dorney Lake, doing speed work and applying some finishing touches. The crew is progressing quite well and it’s now all about sharpening up ahead of Sunday.”
Hoffstot has stroked the previous two Cambridge Blue Boats and is well accustomed to the whirr of a helicopter’s blades on race day. He cited the press launches throughout Tideway week as a way in which to practice tuning out distractions. “We try to ignore the launch,” the American explained. “It is great practice for us as a big part of our preparation is blocking out any extraneous distractions. Unavoidably, you definitely notice all of that on Race day – it’s an integral part of the event and we try to ignore it the moment we reach the start line.”
Middleton will earn his third Blue as he passes the Fulham wall on Sunday and is the most experienced cox at this year’s Race. He divulged a little of his pre-race routine. “We come down for a pre-race paddle, weigh-in, head home for some lunch then drive back to Putney in the afternoon. While the guys get ready, I generally have a coffee, bit of sugar to keep myself moving. It’s important that I don’t switch off so I can keep the Race plan fresh in my mind.”
The Cancer Research UK Boat Races take place on Sunday 27th March 2016. The women’s Race starts at 3:10pm, whilst the men’s Race begins at 4:10pm. Coverage is available on The Boat Race website.