After wins for their lightweights and spares earlier in the week, Cambridge showed their dominance in the 2023 Veteran Boat Races on Saturday, winning their first Women’s Veteran contest in the second edition of the event, and picking up their first men’s trophy on the Tideway in five years. The Veteran Boat Races also act as a test for the BBC’s camera and commentary teams, but were surprisingly uneventful, particularly after last year’s men’s race during which Cambridge had been disqualified.
For the women’s race Cambridge, smarting after last year’s inaugural defeat, had enlisted a triple threat of Olympic medallists Sarah Winckless, Cath Bishop and Anna Watkins, considerably strengthening their crew compared with 2022. Oxford welcomed four of their triumphant 2022 crew back again and had added 1992 Olympian Annabel Eyres, whose sister Lebby was returning, this time in the stroke seat, but had an average age of 49, six years older than the Light Blues. With Sunday’s women’s race umpire Matt Smith picking up the flags, the two crews floated under Putney Bridge into distinctly lumpy water on a high tide broken up by a southwesterly head-wind. Cambridge had won the toss and chosen Surrey, even though for this race, from the University Stone to Furnivall Steps, favours the Middlesex crew early on and only turns in favour of the other station in the second half.
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Smith warned Cambridge on the very first stroke, while Oxford dashed slightly ahead rating a feisty 44 initially, dropping to 40 then 38 as Cambridge took a more leisurely route, rating 40 down to 36. Oxford stayed a couple of seats up as the two crews passed London Rowing Club, both rating 36.5 but the strongly rhythmic Cambridge stride was already starting to make a difference. By the time they were passing Thames RC with both sets of supporters yelling, the crews were level and within a few strokes Cambridge edged into the lead. With the conditions worsening towards the open water beyond the Black Buoy, Oxford dropped to 31 whilst Cambridge kept it moving at 33.
The margin stretched out, becoming 7 seats past Beverley Brook, then before Barn Elms Cambridge broke clear, now rating 32 in the worst of the wind, but rowing strongly and smoothly whilst Oxford tried to hold onto them and regained a solid rhythm, but it was too late. There was a brief moment of worry when Smith warned Oxford several times past Barn Elms, clearly concerned that they were risking a clash, but the distance between the two crews was by now nearly a full length. Cambridge rowed triumphantly away from their rivals towards victory over the second half of the course, finishing 15 seconds up.
The men’s race had a switch of stations, Oxford having won the toss and similarly chosen Surrey. After a contentious but victorious race the previous year the Dark Blues had the 2022 cox and three rowers back again, adding Kiwi Olympian Storm Uru in stern pair. Cambridge had five of the previous year’s rowers returning, and had persuaded Tokyo 2020 Olympic bronze medallist cox Henry Fieldman to take the rudder strings. On paper the two crews were the same average age and very nearly the same average weight, so it looked as if Tony Reynolds as umpire would have a challenging race.
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However, from the start it was clear Cambridge were not messing about. They shot out of the blocks bent on revenge, taking a couple of seats on the first stroke, and rating 36 to Oxford’s 33 as they settled. They had several seats by the time the Putney clubhouses were coming into view, and a full length by the time the crews reached Thames Rowing Club. Clear water before the Black Buoy was reached sealed Oxford’s fate and from then on there was nothing to do but row to the finish.
Oxford’s rate picked up considerably as the water flattened due to dropping wind on the approach to the Milepost but a quality Cambridge crew had it all their own way, and could afford to rate a metronomic 32.5 set by strokeman Fred Gill, while Oxford at 34 tried to play catchup but were by now bogged down in Cambridge’s wash. The margin at the finish, like the women’s crews, was a solid 15 seconds.
Later in the afternoon as the veteran crews had tea together in Crabtree Boathouse the crews of the famous 2003 “one-foot verdict” men’s Boat Race took to the water to row a 250 metre sprint. With alumni and alumnae cheering them on, Cambridge took a slight lead early on which they extended to victory by half a length.
Women’s Veteran Boat Race: Cambridge beat Oxford by 5 lengths.
Milepost: Cambridge 4-58, Oxford 5-05
Finish: Cambridge 9-24, Oxford 9-39
Men’s Veteran Boat Race: Cambridge beat Oxford by 5 lengths.
Milepost: Cambridge 3-56, Oxford 4-05
Finish: Cambridge 7-31, Oxford 7-46.
Times rounded to the nearest second, as is traditional.
Timekeeper: Rachel Quarrell.