The Henley Boat Races: Tom Copeland Reports from Oxfordshire

Dispatches from Henley: Tom Copeland of Inner Rowing provides coverage of the 2012 Henley Boat Races, with photography courtesy of Iain Weir of

CULRC leads OULRC (Photo: © Iain Weir)
It was under clear, sunny skies that Oxford and Cambridge met for this year's Women's and Lightweight Men's boat races in Henley-on-Thames.

The first two races down the course were the Intercollegiate Men's and Women's races which were added to the race programme for the first time last year. With Downing, Cambridge's fastest women's crew, unable to attend, Emmanuel took up the challenge of Pembroke College Ox. but were unable to match the pace of a crew which contained both Natalie Redgrave and Brianna Stubbs, both of whom were members of last year's winning Oxford Blue Boat. Pembroke crossed the line with well over a length of clear water separating the crews and having never been bothered by Emmanuel.

In the men's Intercollegiate race Gonville & Caius of Cambridge took on Pembroke, Oxford. Just a week before the Henley Boat Races the two colleges raced each other–and 400 other crews from around Britain–in the Eights Head of the River Race in London. While Pembroke rowed their way to an impressive 42nd place in the head, Caius struggled to 73rd following various crew changes and reshuffles. On the morning of the Henley races, it was seen that Caius had reshuffled again - moving their Eights' Head stroke-man to the bow seat - and general opinion along the course on was that Pembroke were going to walk it. Caius had other ideas and threw everything into the first 500m of the shortened course which ran to Remenham Farm. They quickly established a lead over Pembroke and passed the halfway marker just over three-quarters of a length in front. However, their Fly-and-die race plan saw them tiring in the closing couple of hundred meters as Pembroke wound it up for the finish, taking a seat back every couple of strokes. Had it been a full course, Pembroke would surely have overhauled the deficit, but Caius held on to win by just under half a length to defend their Intercollegiate win from last year.

The first controversy of the day came in the women's reserves' race in which the lead changed hands several times. Blondie (Cam reserves) were the faster crew off the stake boats, but were pulled back by Osiris (Ox reserves) who then moved to a length advantage as they passed the halfway marker. The Osiris crew then tried to close the door but Blondie went for a huge push which pulled back a quarter length and they continued to move. Both crews were well over towards the Bucks station and a clash seemed inevitable; race umpire Matthew Pinsent started using his flag. With crews overlapping, Osiris were warned for their steering when a clash caused the Blondie two seat to lose her blade and catch a boat-stopping crab. Osiris raced away to an unassailable lead and crossed the line first, but there was little celebration from the Oxford crew as they awaited the umpire's decision following the clash. In last year's reserves race Osiris were disqualified in a similar incident, but on this occasion the race umpire did not feel that a similar response was required, giving the race to Oxford.

Both of the women's lightweight crews moved off the start striking over forty strokes per minute, but it was the dark blue crew who showed greater composure as they moved ahead. Both crews rowed with great technical skill, but the dark blues took a well deserved win, outclassing their Cambridge rivals along the whole course. Indeed, while the Oxford women's reserves crossed the line in 6:57, the Oxford lightweights showed even greater speed to finish in a time of 6:48.

As the Cambridge ladies' first crew lined up on the stakeboats they knew that they were facing a dark blue clean-sweep. However, they also knew that they had recently beaten Oxford at the Women's Head of the River Race in London by 26 seconds - a margin which was reduced by the fact that during that race, Cambridge had suffered a boat-stopping crab. As the crews fired off the start, and Cambridge took an early lead, the race commentator Robert Treharne-Jones described the light blues' as "imperious." Cambridge continued to walk ahead opening a length of clear water as they passed through Fawley. They say that bad things come in threes and Cambridge decided to make the race a little more exciting by catching another boat-stopping crab with just 300m to go. As the Cambridge two-seat Caroline Reid was nearly pulled out of the boat, bow-seat Sarah Moir-Porteous reached forwards and wrestled the blade clear of the water. With Oxford drawing level it was a breathless, straight-sprint to the line - Cambridge crossing it just a canvas ahead.

The final race of the day saw the men's lightweight crews race down the course with Cambridge walking away from Oxford in much the same manner as the women had done half an hour before. Trailing by half a length the dark blues were looking tired and heavy as Cambridge wound it up for the finish and stretched their lead further. While there was no crab in the final couple of hundred meters, Oxford were given reason for complaint when the Cambridge cox steered across them with a lead of only three-quarters of a length, causing a clash. Cambridge crossed the line first, but again, there was a tense silence along the length of the course as the spectators strained to see which flag the umpire would raise. It was a messy end to the race and the race umpire felt that Cambridge were at fault, but that the clash did not ultimately affect the outcome of the race. A white flag was raised and Cambridge declared the winners.

As the most successful club, Cambridge also took home the Victor Ludorum, the Francombe Cup. All crews will return to Henley for the next two years until 2015 when the women's 1st VIII race will move to the Tideway's Championship Course for the first time.

-Tom Copeland

For more from Tom Copeland, please visit his insightful blog, Inner Rowing, and for an outstanding gallery of images from the 2012 Henley Boat Races, please follow the link below:


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