Anguish for Cambridge as collision gifts Oxford victory in the 160th Boat Race

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photo from Reuters

As with many of the traditional races of its illustrious sporting past, controversy was rife as Oxford stormed to victory in the 160th annual boat race by a clear 11 lengths margin.

Founded in 1829, hysteria and festivities were as ubiquitous as ever along the banks of the Thames, as the two crews prepared to lock horns over what is one of the most decorated head-to-heads of British sport.

Being a strictly inter-university affair, whereby only current students are eligible to represent either side, the boat race has a certain allure to it in that it attracts such vast observation for what is essentially a televised amateur event.

With Cambridge emerging as the heavier crew following the weigh-in, and with this variable often standing as a huge factor in dictating the victors, Oxford sought to combat by matching this with a wealth of experience.

With their race crew containing the likes of team GB medallist Constantine Louloudis in stroke seat and former world-champion, New Zealander Storm Uru in bow, the Oxford outfit showcased a delectable assortment of  seasoned champions intermingled with raw, potential-laden athletes.

With Oxford winning the coin toss and subsequently selecting the Surrey side of the waterway beforehand, this meant the ‘dark-blues’ had the supposed advantageous run-in over the latter stages, following the inner-lane of the Surrey bend and final sprint upon Barnes Bridge. The Cambridge crew, led by club president and land economy student Steve Dudek, knew that in order to counter this, a strong, dynamic start was paramount.

The event got off to a raucous pace, the coxes of both universities pushing their crews immediately upon the klaxon. Oxford’s experience soon appeared to be a match for the pure weighted power emitting from the Cambridge boat, as both crews displayed artistic symmetry across the first 100 strokes.

It was at five minutes into the race that disaster struck, infiltrating the contest with controversy. 23 year-old Luke Juckett in the Cambridge two seat saw a clash of oars with Oxford’s seventh seat, consequently causing his stray blade to miss stroke and come agonisingly close to ejecting him from the boat.

Juckett and his fellow crew-mates were able to soon regain composure, nevertheless the damage was done as the accomplished Oxford boat were able to pull away and capitalise upon their rivals misfortunes.

To make matters worse, the apparatus of which stabilises the oars upon the boat, the rigger, took substantial damage upon this impact, meaning both Juckett’s fight-back and his crew’s overall chances of revival were all but non-existent.

In the wake of the collision, Oxford cox Laurence Harvey remained focused upon the task at hand, maintaining a cool head and ensuring his finely drilled crew displayed their rehearsed physical endurance in pushing for the finish line at maximum velocity.

His Cambridge counterpart, Ian Middleton, did an equally inspired job in continuously pressing the dejected crew of the light-blues, using every fibre of his relatively limited experience in ensuring the Cambridge boat minimalised the landslide defeat as much as possible.

As the Oxford crew jubilantly crossed the line at a finishing time of 18 minutes and 36 seconds, their forlorn rivals miserly followed suit, eagerly seeking the umpire’s attention in order to lodge an expected formal dispute regarding the tie-deciding collision.

As race official Richard Phelps entered verbal negotiations with Cambridge cox Ian Middleton and stroke seat rower Henry Hoffstot, all the while Luke Juckett appeared inconsolable, understandably feeling the blame for his team’s demise. Cambridge’s objections however fell on deaf ears, as Phelps ruled that the light-blues had impeached upon Oxford’s waterway, thus being the cause of their own error in the lead up to the collision of oars.

Following the celebrations, and customary tradition of throwing the cox back into the river Thames, the Oxford team were respectful in victory. President Malcolm Howard expressed his commiserations to Cambridge for losing in such a manner, but quickly acknowledged the fight and desire of his Oxford crew.

Likewise, former Oxford boat club president and four-times participant of the great race, Karl Hudspith, took to social media Twitter to thank all those who supported during the day, with the win sealing a victorious end to his last ever showing for the university.

The Cambridge crew will no doubt be bitterly disheartened, however if one thing is for certain, the controversial events of the 160th boat race will provide much needed fuel and determination in order to come back stronger next year, eager to seek retribution.

This will add extra zest to next year’s contest, alongside the  announcement that the Boat Race 2015 will see the women’s crews of each university staged upon the same tideway, significantly on the same day as the men’s event.  An enticing prospect for all, as a future spectacle of Great British sport awaits.