Thursday, March 31, 2016

The 2016 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races Were Everything They Were Supposed To Be

Op-Ed: A Celebration of Spirit

While, in the not-too-distant past, we've had to lament troubles that beset one of the most storied traditions in our sport, 2016's event proved to be a shining example of why the Boat Races are still so important, and so relevant to every level of rowing.

Last year, at long last, the women's Boat Race was held on the same course as the men, but this year took that a step further in the right direction, as both the races had the same name—our hats are off to BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management for donating their title sponsorship to Cancer Research UK, and making use of one of rowing's greatest spectacles to give back to the community. And all of this before any racing took place.

Speaking of racing, though, the 2016 Women's Boat Race was one that will be memorable for many of us in the rowing community, for all the right reasons.


Conditions on Sunday in London were, in a word, challenging. Though the early stages of the championship racecourse from Putney to Mortlake were reasonably flat, crossing through Hammersmith and rounding the bend past the Band Stand, both men's and women's crews may have found themselves feeling they would "give a thousand furlongs of open sea for an acre of barren ground, long heath, brown furze, any thing"—a true Tideway Tempest. But how they met those challenges should make them, and everyone in the rowing community, proud.

Watching the live broadcast, it seemed impossible that the Cambridge women would stay afloat. They did. Despite the race being out of hand—and congratulations to Oxford, and particularly to coxswain Morgan Baynham-Williams, for responding and adapting to the conditions in a pragmatic way—Cambridge kept coming. It can be trite to talk about moral victories, but if there ever were one, this was it.

Not only that, but it showed the kind of grit and determination that further highlights how much these women, and those before them, deserved to be on the championship course, alongside the men. Well rowed, ladies.

The men's race displayed the same values, with Cambridge eking out an early lead back of an excellent rhythm set up by Lance Tredell—though surely, in the great tradition of seven seats taking credit for the rhythm (so long as it's good), Ben Ruble ought to be lauded as well—and extending that lead through the rough water, never losing their cohesion and apparent indifference to the elements. Meanwhile, Oxford, just as we indicated in our predictions, held on. Despite all of the challenges, mental and physical, that face a crew that loses contact in a match race, the Dark Blues simply would not go away.

In many ways, it was a must-win for Steve Trapmore, and he delivered. So, too, did Sean Bowden, fielding yet another fiercely competitive crew, and winning the reserves race.

Which brings me to my next point: How could next year be even better?

First, don't hire a comedian who knows nothing about rowing commentate on the event. (I'll just leave it at that.)

Second, what is stopping us from seeing the reserves races, which, once again, were outstanding?


So, Oxford and Cambridge rowers, thank you. Your performances, win or lose, validated all the hours of hard work that went into your preparation, and you showed the kind of selfless dedication to the team that so defines our sport. The bottom line is that yes, one boat finishes first, and another behind it—but there can be no talk of losers last Sunday.

-Bryan

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