The press conferences for The BNY Mellon Boat Races took place today in the BT Media Centre. Each club brought along three representatives in the form of the head coach, the coxswain of the Blue Boat and the President of the Boat Club.
Cambridge University Boat Club were the first to face the questions. With this being the first year in which the women will race alongside the men on the Tideway, the topic of club harmony was raised. ‘CUBC has always supported the women’s boat club, on or off the Tideway. ‘ said Steve Trapmore, head coach of CUBC. ‘The women’s club has been using the Ely facility for quite some time but it’s been really good fun for the last few years. They’ve got a really established coaching team now and there’s lots of dialogue backwards and forwards- it’s a really great environment.’
Trapmore expanded on the effect that a ‘club’ feeling has on his athletes. ‘With the different academic schedules that all the athletes have, there is always somebody in the gym or out at Ely. There is always life and it’s a really healthy, dynamic environment to be in’.
Ian Middleton is the only returning Blue Boat cox and his experience of the Tideway could be key on Saturday. ‘Having raced last year, I feel a lot more confident in steering and my position on the river through the race’ said the 19 year old. Middleton also spoke about tactics, saying that he believed his ‘awareness’ had improved on last year. ‘Having been through Tideway week and the Boat Race already, I certainly feel more relaxed and composed. Hopefully that will give my crew an advantage on Saturday’.
Alexander Leichter played a fairly understated role in proceedings but was asked about the step-up from his stint in Goldie last year. ‘The whole experience is definitely different’ said the Austrian born oarsman. ‘Goldie was also a very intense race too, there was a lot of attention and pressure on the crew but it is not the same as the Blue Boat’.
Leichter also highlighted the role that the returning Blues had played in preparation. ‘The guys who have raced before have taken the lead in telling their crew-mates what to expect and how to deal with the race. We’ve worked well as a team and it didn’t necessarily take a Blue Boat experienced President to lead the squad’.
Oxford Women were next in, with Christine Wilson, cox Jennifer Ehr and President Anastasia Chitty sitting in the hot seats.
Ehr entered the room with scuba diving equipment in tow, prompting a few amused expressions amongst the assembled press. Explaining her head-gear, the 19 year old said that ‘the experience last week has reinforced the fact that everyone has to respect the river and be aware of every situation when you’re out on the Thames’.
Wilson, Head Coach at Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, opened the press conference by discussing the anticipation within the squad. ‘We’re very excited about Saturday and, at this time, all of my athletes just feel ready to race’ said the Canadian in typically enthusiastic fashion. ‘ We’re very happy with the racing season we’ve had thanks to the competitors who’ve been willing to race us in fixtures and we’ve learnt a lot in each of those matches. One of the main things that has been extremely different for us this year is the level of internal competition within the squad. Osiris has really helped to push the Blue Boat on.
Wilson also spoke of the challenges of having to prepare a crew to peak in April. ‘For most of my competitive career, I’ve been working towards a goal that would happen in June, July or August. I think the acceleration of the training program and the different kinds of problem solving that is required to have the crew ready at this time has presented a real challenge to me as a coach’.
President Anastasia was in a pensive mood. ‘When we set out on this journey in September 2012, we always had Saturday in mind’ she reflected. ‘There’s been a lot of consistency to the training over the last few years, with increasing amounts of training spent on the Tideway. We’ve been trying to build up a repertoire so that the whole crew is relaxed. I’m certainly more comfortable with what race day may throw at us’.
When quizzed about the relative inexperience of her young cox, Chitty responded with praise for her crew-mate. ‘The whole crew is behind Jen. She’s impressed ever since the Fours Head back in November and she makes good decisions under pressure’.
Cambridge Women followed their opposition in the running order as Rob Baker, Caroline Reid and coxswain Rosemary Ostfeld took to the stage.
President Caroline Reid was asked about the difference between racing at Henley and the Tideway and if the squads preparation had changed in any way. ‘It’s still very much a similar challenge as we’re still training to get from A to B as fast as possible except obviously A and B are a little bit further apart’ replied Reid, who is the most experienced oarswoman in the race this year. ‘The course is obviously windier plus we have the added challenge of the elements which don’t affect us quite so much at Henley or Dorney. We’re very lucky to have a very experienced coaching team that have really led us forward over this three year period’.
Baker recently swapped bow and stroke of his Blue Boat around and this switch was raised at the press conference. ‘We’ve actually made that switch a few times in training’ responded Baker. ‘We’re pretty lucky to have two good strokes and we swapped it again a few weeks ago and it went really well. It’s the right timing for the people in those seats so it doesn’t feel like a big change for us’.
Oxford have been made firm bookmakers favourites for this years Newton Women’s Boat Race but that didn’t seem to faze the Cambridge contingent. ‘We don’t worry about it at all, if I’m honest’ said Baker with a wry smile. ‘We very much know how much this group has improved, especially recently so we take a lot of confidence from our preparation. It sounds clichéd but we only worry about ourselves.’
Rosemary Ostfeld is the only coxswain in the women’s race to have previous Tideway experience, having coxed Goldie in last years racing. The American was succinct in her summary, saying that ‘racing with CUBC on the Tideway was a great experience over the last two years and it’s been wonderful working with the women instead this year’.
The Oxford men, who have the BNY Mellon Boat Race three times in the last four occasions, were last to face the media.
Having claimed that ‘the boat is the same but everything else is better’ at the weigh-in, Sean Bowden was faced with the reality of a late illness to James O’Connor. However, Bowden had good news to report for Oxford supporters. ‘ He’s back in the boat and he seems fine. We’ve had a good run with James Mountain in the two seat, having been working on things for three or four days and I think it’s a fairly easy transition to make.’
Dan Topolski, who recently passed away after a long struggle against illness, will be sorely missed at this years racing. ‘You keep sort of thinking that you’ll turn around and he’s going to be there and it’s caught me out a few times’ said the Oxford coach. ‘It’s a great loss for us and I know Dan was hoping to hang on for this one but then, knowing Dan, he’d probably be thinking the same about next year’.
Questioning turned to Constantine Louloudis and his impressive hattrick of Boat Race wins. ‘It’ll be the successful rounding off of an Oxford career’ said the charismatic President when asked about the potential implications of another Boat Race win. ‘I haven’t come here, having won three races, to lose the last one. I’m probably hungrier to win this one than I have been on any other occasion.’
Louloudis was then quizzed on the ‘politics’ behind being President of such a prestigious Boat Club. ‘There’s a lot going on. Sometimes a President has to take unpopular decisions’ said Louloudis before hastily adding a quip in David Cameron’s direction. ‘Sometimes you don’t enjoy the full support of all the members; there have been one or two moments like that this year but nothing major, no fall outs’.
Will Hakim, Oxford’s coxswain for this years race, was asked about the comparison between the BNY Mellon races and the Harvard-Yale match, which is also a varsity event. ‘For one, the Harvard-Yale race is straight which makes my job a little easier’ smiled the 23 year old. ‘The Oxbridge race is a competitive race and will be very tough.’
The BNY Mellon Boat Races take place on Saturday 11th April. The Women’s race begins at 4:50pm while the men’s race starts at 5:50pm.