Having spent the week practising on the Tideway in near perfect spring conditions, BNY Mellon Boat Races day dawned with squally rain and gusty westerly winds.
By race time at 4.50pm on this historic day for women’s sport the sun had burst through, though the wind remained, making for choppy conditions around the long Surrey bend.
Oxford were the pre-Race favourites, having looked very strong in their fixtures on the Tideway. Both crews had made late changes, in the Light Blue Boat Hannah Evans exchanged the bow seat for the rhythm setting position at stroke with Swiss national Fanny Belais, this despite Evans’ relative inexperience, having only learned to row as an undergraduate in of all places, Oxford. The Dark Blues made their own swap just last week, moving British teenager Maddy Badcott to five and putting Nadine Graedel Iberg, another Swiss, behind multi-Olympic medalist Caryn Davies at seven.
In a taste of things to come Oxford won the toss and as so often happens on the Championship Course chose the Surrey station. From the start umpire Simon Harris was given very little to do as the crews stayed well apart from each other, Oxford at 42, Cambridge slightly lower at 40 strokes per minute.
For the first minute Cambridge stayed on terms with the lighter Oxford crew, but the power and precision of the Dark Blues soon told as they eased away to a canvas advantage passing the Town Buoy.
Cambridge dug deep and pushed trying to take advantage of the Middlesex bend in bouncy conditions, but Oxford always had control settling to a long rhythmic 33 as they eased away. By the Mile Post, which Oxford reached in 4:08 their lead had stretched to just over a length, allowing them to choose where they wanted to steer on the river. Cambridge’s job was now all the harder as they rowed through Oxford’s wash.
By Hammersmith Bridge, reached in 7:25, the strong headwind kicked in but Oxford continued to ease away, rowing their own race unaffected by anything Cambridge threw at them. The Light Blue’s persevered at 34, over-rating Oxford but there was nothing they could do to get back on terms.
A lead of 3 lengths at Hammersmith Bridge turned into 4 by Chiswick Steps through the rough conditions, and as Cambridge tired Oxford looked more relaxed, sitting at a steady 32 for the rest of the Race as they pulled further away.
By the finish Oxford had pulled out to a 6 ½ length victory in a time of 19 minutes 45 seconds.
On this historic day Christine Wilson the Oxford Women’s coach said she was “Proud of these remarkable women.”
For the Light Blues, coach Rob Baker said “ This young crew has come a long way but we knew we were up against a fast crew from Oxford today, we just didn’t have enough.”