On a day when winter finally announced its arrival with plummeting temperatures and icy gusts, both Oxford men’s and women’s squads were in action in the annual Trial Eights race.
The women’s crews were first to brave the cold weather, on a course blessed with otherwise perfect conditions. Named Helen and Heather after Great Britain’s double Olympic gold winning pair, it was the latter who won the toss and choose the Surrey station. Under the watchful eye of umpire Sarah Winckless, who will also umpire The Women’s Boat Race in April, both crews got away cleanly and crisply. It was Heather who did the very early running, taking a seat by the end of the Putney Embankment. Determined to minimise any early advantage, Helen veered slightly off the course and earned themselves a warning from Winckless.
Stretching around the Fulham Bend, Helen took the lead by no more than a couple of seats. Both crews were rugged in their rhythms and locked horns again approaching the Mile Post, calling the umpire into action to separate them. In a dynamic and startlingly change of pace, Heather drew level, took the lead and stretched out to a length in the space of around 600m. As the crews moved past St Paul’s boathouse, it was Heather who increased their lead to around two lengths and maintained this advantage all the way around the inside of the Surrey bend.
Bumpy water ahead of Barnes Bridge made life difficult for both crews and Heather were repeatedly warned for steering across off their station. This looked to have ruffled the boat and Helen, coxed by Elenor Shearer, began to close the deficit. As Chiswick Bridge loomed into sight, Helen had regained contact with Heather and, as the crews raised their rate in anticipation of a sprint finish, it was Helen who looked to have the momentum. Crossing the line, both crews collapsed and the assembled launches looked toward the finish line for confirmation. In the end, it was confirmed that Helen had done enough in the final sprint to claim a narrow victory.
The men’s squad raced a slightly longer course, starting at the conventional Putney Bridge point but ending just outside the University of London boathouse. The crews were named Acer and Daniel, in memory of Acer Nethercott and Daniel Topolski who both sadly lost battles with cancer in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Daniel won the toss and opted for the Surrey station. After a little adjusting, both boats got away powerfully. Acer, stroked by Blue James Cook and containing OUBC President Michael DiSanto, moved out to around two seats after the first 30 strokes to accompany an early warning from umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent. Daniel looked to have the slightly better rhythm in the early stages, which paid dividends as they drew level past Barn Elms boathouse.
Pinsent repeatedly warned Acer, who were making full use of their bend past Fulham Football Club, who lengthened out to ¾ of a length in the following minute of rowing. At the Mile Post, Daniel finally managed to contain their opponent’s move and began to regain parity. Approaching Hammersmith Bridge, both boats converged and there was a minor blade clash – Daniel dealt with the disturbance slightly more comfortably and now had a ½ length lead. In a move which had begun at Harrods Depository and ended outside St Paul’s boathouse, Daniel came from nearly a length down to lead Acer by over a length at Chiswck Eyot.
As the race wore on into the second half and the Surrey bend stretched out, Daniel looked the chunkier of the two crews; with two former Blues and a senior British international on-board, they continued to stretch their advantage. By Barnes Bridge, they led by 3 lengths and never looked in danger of relinquishing that lead. The extra mileage was completed, but Acer failed to eat into Daniel’s significant lead, which ended up around 4 lengths by the finish line.
The 163rd Boat Race and The 72nd Women’s Boat Race will take place on Sunday 2nd April 2017. The Cancer Research UK Women’s Boat Race will start at 16:35, with The Cancer Research UK Boat Race an hour later at 17:35.