By Peter McConnell (courtesy of the theboatrace.org)
Photo: Matt Henderson
In another moment of controversy the 2014 BNY Mellon Boat Race saw Oxford romp away to one of the biggest margins of victory in recent years.
On an overcast day prone to squalls and with a strong south west wind blowing this was always going to be a test of technique as well as stamina. Oxford had taken some good scalps in the lead-up to the Race, Cambridge’s victories had looked less convincing. So it was that the bookies made Oxford the firm favourites in this, the 160th edition of the Race.
Oxford won the toss and chose the Surrey station which would give them the advantage of the big Surrey bend a third of the way into the Race. Therefore it was Cambridge who would have the early advantage around the Middlesex bend after the end of the Fulham Wall.
Off the start both crews sprinted off in the mid 40’s, Oxford taking an early lead. As expected the crews were very close to each other with Cambridge warned by first time Boat Race Umpire Richard Phelps. The Light Blues used the bend to their advantage reeling in Oxford’s lead, hence as they passed the Town Buoy the crews were level.
With both crews at 35 Oxford began to exert their power, pulling out to a 1/3 length lead along the Crabtree Reach. Then shortly after the Mile Post , 5 minutes in to the Race, came the moment that effectively settled the result. Phelps had warned Oxford who now had a ¾ length lead, they responded but Cambridge moved with them and as the Umpire issued a warning to Cambridge the blades of Light Blue 2 man Luke Juckett came into contact with that of Sam O’Connor the Kiwi in the Oxford 7 seat. Juckett was knocked out of his stride, crabbed and was nearly thrown from the boat.
Oxford seizing the moment powered away as Cambridge floundered, missing five effective strokes. Worse, Juckett’s rigger was bent meaning his pitch was completely wrong so he could only make a negligible contribution to the speed of his crew.
At Hammersmith Bridge Oxford had an 8 second lead meaning they could choose their own water. They continued to pile on the pressure at a steady 33 strokes a minute and continued to move away from a demoralised Light Blue crew. Even with a strong headwind and rough conditions after Chiswick Eyot, Oxford’s progress was relentless. At Chiswick Steps the Oxford lead was 16 seconds over 5 lengths, at Barnes Bridge 28 seconds and at the finish a massive 32 seconds.
Cambridge cox Ian Middleton raised his hand in protest after the finish but to no avail. Richard Phelps later explained,
“I was concerned where Oxford were, so I warned Oxford and they moved immediately. A second later I was happy where the crews were but I then saw the Cambridge bow just twitch-in towards Oxford, so I warned Cambridge. The next thing there was a slight contact but the impact was great.”
Talking about the Cambridge appeal he said that
“Cambridge’s view was that when the foul occurred Oxford were not on their station. From my perspective Oxford were on their proper station; quite clearly. Contact could only have been in neutral water or at the worst Cambridge were off their station. I advised Cambridge I was overruling their appeal.”
Steve Trapmore Cambridge’s Head Coach was understandably disappointed,
“I can’t give you an informed decision without seeing the replay. We knew this race was going to be tough and I’m immensely proud of this crew.”
The winning president Malcolm Howard thanked his crew and coach Sean Bowden for an amazing year. He felt the clash but
“I don’t think it affected the outcome, we were moving really well, we’d withstood their big push early on and had started to take seats. We were moving on them and would have kept moving.”
Bowden for his part said,
“We can look back on this year with a lot of pride. I felt this year we could achieve really high standards. The clash is one of those things that can happen. Cambridge put a lot of pressure on early on but we were moving away. Steering is always competitive and this is one of the things that can happen when you take risks.”