A hell of a curtain-raiser

The Rowing Service

The traditional Varsity reserves race, taking place half an hour before the big event of Boat Race Day, is often a bit of a procession. Normally the lower experience of the crews lends itself to a first-to-the Black Buoy race, with the crew which slips down unable even to stay in contact. Last year we had a taster of changing times, when Isis hung on through some desperate clashes, to pick up the first Dark Blue heavyweight men's win since 1992. This year what stunned the crowds was that the reserves race was the battle to watch. The sadness was that, in order to leave no wash on the course for the following Boat Race, the BBC could only use fixed camera positions, and the traditional helicopter had been grounded by low cloud, so much of the race was hard to see clearly.

The crews started smoothly, with Goldie on Middlesex and Isis on Surrey, the latter taking a slight lead. But to the dismay of umpire Rupert Obholzer, within 25 seconds they were clashing, "in more or less neutral water - they just converged" according to him. The clash left Goldie up, and they then gave it some serious welly, pulling their lead out to nearly a length by the Black Buoy. Normally this would be game, set and handbag, but Isis had no plans to give in gracefully.

As the crews moved stroke for stroke, Goldie tried to get away and make the all-important move directly in front of Isis. But by Barn Elms, then Hammersmith, then the Eyot they just couldn't quite manage it. Umpire Obholzer watched in consternation - if a losing crew manages to push back into contact, the Umpire has to warn the lead crew if necessary and get them back onto station. Just as they came to the Crossing Goldie were able to start really washing Isis down, leaving themselves clear to approach Barnes Bridge in the better water. Coming to the Bandstand Obholzer got busy as Isis pushed back hard, and warned Goldie back to Middlesex, then Isis to Surrey as the crews appeared to him to be getting closer again. From the camera shots it was impossible to tell clearly at Thames Tradesmen whether Isis were really managing a kick-back or not.

The crews swapped stations after the bridge, Isis trying to cut inside the bend and gain more ground. From the umpire's position it looked like they were trying to bump Goldie, but there was still a little clear water. By now, with three minutes to go, it did seem that the Cambridge reserves had done it, but you never call it over until the finish line - at least that's what the Oxford supporters were thinking. Light Blue backers were more confident, and with their crew knowing Chiswick Bridge was in sight, heads went up and they pulled out another few feet against the last-ditch Isis offensive to make it a length and a third in the fastest reserves race ever, despite it not being the biggest of flood tides. Isis meanwhile had equalled both the old record and their winning time of last year, and left the result in doubt until the final minutes: a hell of a race by all standards.


Mile Post3:36.5 3:39.9 last year 3:39
Hammersmith Bridge6:32.6 6:36.2 last year 6:34
Chiswick Steps10:21.6 10:25.5 last year 10:22
Barnes Bridge14:03.2 14:07.3 last year 14:07
Finish16:57.8 (new record)17:02.3 (equals record)last year 17:02

Boat Race report