The Boat Race 2000

The Rowing Service

Saturday 25th March 2000
Rachel Quarrell from the Tideway, London

This year I compiled a report from the banks of the Tideway - some of it "live" and some written at the time and uploaded later.

Introduction, 3:30 pm:

The funny thing about the Boat Race is its transient but intense appeal. To listen to the radio, TV and newspapers you would think that for a day every single person in Britain turns into a Boat Race pundit. That's not true - but a large fraction of sports enthusiasts do keep an eye on things - watching the coverage, listening to the radio, or crowding the banks of the Tideway portion of the Thames to drink plastic pints and jeer at old rowing rivals. Behind the finish this afternoon, was a characteristic scene: schoolboys playing football in a field seemed totally unaware of the fuss a few yards away, as media types fiddled with camera positions, and old boaties strutted in blazerly style chatting about hoary victories over beer or champagne. For a few minutes each race the traffic over Putney, Hammersmith and Chiswick bridges will stop, for a few hours parking is a nightmare anywhere within sight of Fulham or Putney, for an hour of Grandstand we will pretend that Great Britain takes rowing seriously.
The weather is chill but bright, threatened showers not yet doing more than spattering spectators. Crowds are already jammed tight on the Putney Embankmentand gathering along the rest of the course. The wind is south-ish, as forecasted, and this should mean a fairly flat start, followed by tricky water around most of the Surrey corner from Hammersmith to the Bandstand. Cambridge won the toss, and duly chose Surrey station, which tends to be more favoured both during the long middle bend and also in most wind conditions other than north-westerly. Oxford's President Nick Robinson expressed satisfaction, though - as usual when the toss is lost and you just have to get on with the station you've been given.

Isis versus Goldie

The reserves race is a grudge match with Cambridge well ahead - Goldie (light blue) having 23 wins to Isis (dark blue) 12. With Isis on Surrey station and Goldie on the first-favoured Middlesex side, and conditions getting gloomier and windier by the minute, the start saw quick, slick rates from both crews, with Goldie pushing ahead down the moored boats at Putney.
This looked as if it was going to be another "standard" reserves race, with Goldie edging ahead in the first three minutes and then taking their opponents water, but Isis rowed well in the choppy conditions, and held on to their rivals around the first, quite small, corner. Between the Milepost and Hammersmith Bridge the crews drew level, and as they passed the Harrods Village (scene of the old Depository) the advantage moved into Oxford's favour as the long Surrey bend started. Coming under the bridge Isis's cox steered quite tightly to Surrey, but didn't give away the centre of the stream, and the crew used their advantage well, squeezing ahead as they came to the end of the Eyot.
By the Bandstand Isis had a solid lead of more than a length's clear water, and moved ahead of Goldie before taking Barnes Bridge. Now the result was almost locked down - and Isis moved further away to win in around five lengths. The last time Isis won was two years ago, but it was not followed by a Blue Boat win for their camp too.

Boat Race start

The weather has become quite harsh: both crews look pretty frozen on the start, Oxford on Middlesex and Cambridge on Surrey. The wind is definitely stronger, and like the Thames World Sculling Challenge yesterday, the rowers could run into hard conditions in the middle of the race. Plenty of trouble aligning the boats, and finally after some reshuffling, both are off.
A clean start, Oxford rating several pips higher than Cambridge. This hasn't helped them much, as Cambridge take a few feet lead, but then get very harshly warned by umpire Simon Harris, sticking his oar in early before the crews actually get anywhere close to clashing distance. Round the Black Buoy area, both being warned, blades a foot apart, Cambridge being warned a little more, very nearlly clashing, still just a seat or two advantage to Cambridge. Still nearly interlocked, Cambridge still being warned. Neither crew has had the chance to setltle properly, Cambridge at 35 but not as rhythmic as they would like, taking the first corner puts Oxford up a smidgeon, they put in a push as they do it, rating 37, then steady down again.
Now rounding the Milepost, Oxford being warned, as they try to get as far ahead as they can before the long Surrey turn, Cambridge looking very smooth around the finish, Oxford now three seats up, and the different rhythms in the two crews very apparent. Oxford move up a little more, but still not over half a length ahead again, the highly biased commentators Chris Baillieu (Camb) and Jonny Searle (Ox) making some excellent coverage of the fight. Oxford still only slightly up as they near Harrods, nowhere near clearing their rivals, and now Cambridge push back. Here we have bigger Oxford power and weight into the choppy section of the course, versus Cambridge bend advantage and technique. Oxford warned, as Cambridge reel back to nearly level, and as they move away the Light Blues start to put their bow ball just a few inches in front. As they pass St. Paul's School the water is flying round all the blades, both crews now clearly getting pretty tired. Efficiency is all, and Cambridge work their way towards the Eyot still shifting a tiny fraction each stroke. Middle of the Eyot, Cambridge being warned, blades slicing the rough waves as they row, Oxford also throwing up plenty of splash. End of the Eyot Oxford's turn to be warned, Cambridge still a little ahead, and their bend now nearly running out.
Coming to the Chiswick Steps, another Oxford push is edging them back into the level again, both crews still coping well with the conditions. Time is running out for the Light Blues, their corner advantage coming to an end. The last time a crew successfully rowed around the outside of this bend was 1992 - an Oxford win... Cambridge working long as the water starts to flatten again, Oxford long but their bladework a little more sloppy: but it's a fraction more effective, and every stroke they take moves them an inch ahead of the Light Blues. The two crews are still close: Oxford just three seats up in the distance, and a few feet apart the blades. Now nearing the Bandstand, and Oxford's stroke Alex Reid grimaces as he really digs it in hard for their final big attack. This pushes them up further, and cox Kajsa McLaren is now waiting until she can really pull in front - the killer blow for the leading crew to kill off the opposition.
Now at Barnes Bridge, and the gap betwen the two shells is moving to clear water: Oxford still sticking to their station, but just starting to move across. Final bend, and although the commentators talk about a Cambridge push, it would take an accident now to change the result. Open water one length, and the crews are starting to come to the finish.

The Finish

In the last two minutes, Oxford's final spurt of energy draw them further in front, Cambridge by now must know that the end of their ordeal is in sight and there is not a lot they can do. Their long domination of this race is looking in doubt: seven years in a row for the top Cambridge crew taking the laurels, Oxford looking in disarray at times, and for ages it has seemed as if that was going to be the pattern for a long time to come. A cracking race, one of the best for closeness, clashing, and for much of it the outcome by no means decided. Oxford cross the line three lengths to the good, and immediately yells of triumph, shouts of delight, and from the middle of the boat an oarsman stands up. The Horseferry shingle, a sea of light blue in previous years, is stuffed with dark Blue supporters. Isis are by the water's edge, dancing up and down in ecstasy at the first double Oxford win for a decade, yelling their first crew home as they paddle past, turn out of the stream, and glide in to land. The victors can't wait to get in - splashing out of the shell to grab and hug their fellow oarsmen, coaches, Old Blues, the cold and fatigue forgotten as they celebrate.
What a difference for the losers, forgotten outside the ring of landing launches crowding in to spill out their passengers - celebrities of the rowing world, reporters and commentators. The Cambridge eight drifts, almost aimlessly, waiting for a gap in the fuss to get on land, bitterly cold and bitterly disappointed: no warm glow of success for the boat that comes second in this race. In the knot on the bank, faces from every era: Donald MacDonald, President of the Oxford Mutiny year (1987) and his coach Daniel Topolski, long-time rowing journalist. Duncan Clegg, official head of the Boat Race committee, but Oxford to the core, and who had to watch his son Rob lose as rower and President during the recent Cambridge streak. James Behrens, Cambridge President when they first started this run, usually able to congratulate his successors. Richard Phelps, another Cambridge winner, looking stunned and disappointed beside other ex-Cambridge crew members. Old Blues and college rowers from decades ago momentarily becoming biased again as they watch this finale.

A great result for the race, which works best in the public imagination when it is close and well-fought rather than a procession. A difficult race for Cambridge, who will always, as when a streak is broken, wonder whether their methods are at fault or whether it was a lucky year for Oxford. An exultant race for Oxford, who for the first time in years will be able to go straight to the party, no doubts, no guilt, nothing but victory.

Times for the crews
Mile Post3:413:42
Hammersmith Bridge6:356:34
Chiswick Steps10:4410:44
Barnes Bridge14:5414:59