One hour after history was made by the Women, the Men’s crews took to the river for the 161st running of The BNY Mellon Boat Race.
Oxford stroke and President Constantine Louloudis, a current World Champion, was looking to make his own piece of history by joining small club of just 13 oarsmen to win 4 or more Boat Races.
While Oxford were firm favourites with the bookies, their preparation had been disrupted during Tideway week when 4 man, the Kiwi James O’Connor, was taken ill, only returning to the Blue Boat, now rowing at 2, just two days prior to the Race. His brother Sam at 7 was one of 4 returning Oxford Blues.
The Cambridge crew boated five Blues from 2014 including cox Ian Middleton. Their President Alexander Leichter raced for Goldie in their defeat to Isis last year and was burning for revenge. The warning was there though from Oxford’s Louloudis who said before the Race, “I haven’t come here having won 3 Races to lose the last one.”
Cambridge won the toss and picked the Surrey station but got off to a poor start allowing Oxford to take the early advantage. Both crews went off hard though and were still rating in the high 30s passing the Putney boathouses. As Umpire Boris Rankov issued his first warnings of the day to Cambridge, the Light Blues were back on terms. Settling to 36 strokes a minute they had a canvas advantage passing the Fulham Wall.
Louloudis in the Oxford stroke seat didn’t look phased, sitting at 37, to pull level at Barn Elms before pushing on to again take the lead. Cambridge fought hard though keeping the lead down to ¼ length at the Mile Post which Oxford passed in a time of 3:44. It was still just over ¼ length at Harrods and only 1 second at Hammersmith Bridge, and with the Surrey bend aiding Cambridge they looked to push and get back on terms.
Oxford had other ideas and went for broke in the rough water past St. Paul’s School boathouse, on the outside of the bed. This is where Cambridge would have expected to be fighting for the lead, instead Oxford’s push up to 35 strokes a minute, took them away and in just 20 strokes they had a clear water lead, allowing them to negate Cambridge’s bend advantage.
Oxford could now choose their water, so chose to row immediately in front of the Light Blues using the remainder of the Surrey bend to their own advantage. From Chiswick Steps on, the cohesion and neat bladework characteristic of this crew allowed Oxford to pull relentlessly away. As the lead increased the more Oxford relaxed and the faster they went, sitting happily now at 33 strokes per minute.
The lead at that point was 7 seconds. Cambridge persevered but despite rating higher than Oxford kept slipping further back. As the water flattened around Dukes Meadow, Oxford relentlessly extended their lead. 14 seconds advantage at Barnes Bridge was turned into 20 seconds over the final 3 minutes, Oxford winning by 20 seconds in a time of 17:34.
Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore accepted that his team were second best today, praising his opposite number Sean Bowden, “All credit to Sean, we couldn’t match Oxford’s speed around the top of the Surrey bend, but I’m immensely proud of my whole crew.” he said.
Louloudis expressed a sense of relief about winning his fourth Boat Race and felt his men had executed their best row today. Bowden himself said “We had a particularly good crew today, I’m really chuffed with the result.” Talking about the decisive moment he said, “In terms of psychology we’d had a good experience around the Surrey bend in the Trial VIIIs so we knew we could make the right moves at the right time, it’s the art of match racing.”