Nerves were fraying from the get-go on the first day of Trial VIIIs, and not just those of the athletes. Race organisers closely monitored the bitingly cold weather as thick, low fog shrouded the 4.17 mile Championship Course from Putney to Mortlake. Visibility steadily improved and the fog lifted in time for the two Oxford University Women Boat Club [OUWBC] crews (named after the Greek goddesses Artemis and Athena) to take their position beneath Putney Bridge. Flat water, still conditions and around 20-minutes of pain awaited them.
Artemis, racing in white, has the better of the two starts. A minute into the race, they find themselves a canvas up on Athena. Striking a pip higher than her opposite number Juliet Russell, the stroke of Artemis, leads her crew into the first bend, which favours the Middlesex station as it swings around Fulham Football Club’s Craven Cottage. On the Surrey Station, Athena maintains composure, her stern pair combination, Sarah Marshall and Maria Nielsen-Scott work well to establish a strong rhythm. Lacking traction through the water, Artemis is a shade whisky. Their form was less swept and more scuttle. The two crews are still side by side at the Mile Post but Artemis’ early lead has evaporated. Athena is on the hunt. As the crews track along Crabtree Reach, Athena makes her move. It is a decisive one.
Sudden death for Artemis. They lose contact at Harrods Depository and haemorrhage another length of clear water by Hammersmith Bridge. Now cox, Tara Slade, has a free run at the best line, classically beneath the second lamppost, which she duly takes. What follows is a processional run to the finish with cox Alannah Burdess providing material for commentators Martin Cross and Phelan Hill, as she strays towards Surrey and temporarily switches stations, perhaps to avoid the puddles of those in front. Athena crosses the finish line at Chiswick in a time of 19 minutes 24 seconds, Artemis follows five lengths back. Afterwards, OUWBC Head Coach Andy Nelder admitted a closer race would have been his preference. “You’d like a long hard, bloodbath of a race,” said Nelder but it was a far cry, “from being a waste of time”.