Oxford won the toss and choose Surrey station, the official safer option despite the last four Boat Races having been won on Middlesex. Once umpire Rob Clegg dropped his red flag, the 157th Boat Race was under way.
Cambridge had a stroke rate of 47 against Oxford at 46 although a minute later Oxford were still rating a good 39 with Cambridge just behind at 38. Oxford veered off course slightly when approaching Fulham football ground only to be warned twice by the umpire but they maintained the advantage, and made it to the Mile in 3 mins 49 secs, one second ahead of our Cambridge crew.
Oxford lead the way by one length at St Paul’s School boathouse but broke clear at the top of Chiswick Eyot, still rating 34. Cambridge attempted to raise the rate by a pip and their cox Liz Box steered a nice tight on the corner trying to claw back the deficit.
By Chiswick Steps, Oxford looking increasingly confident as they took the advantage. Cambridge gave a gallant final push as the final Middlesex bend was in their favour but Oxford held them off, crossing the finish line in 17 mins 32 secs to Cambridge’s 17 mins 44 seconds.
Heartfelt commiseration go to the valiant effort from our Cambridge team.
What a race! In my capacity as a sports performance psychology consultant, I have had the pleasure to work with rowers helping them develop mental fitness to better handle the competitive pressure enabling them to put every stroke of practice to good use when race day finally arrives.
Last Saturday, I was asked repeatedly “What happened?”. Sitting in a local Cambridge pub, watching the aghast faces as the Oxford crew not only took the lead but left Cambridge painfully rowing in their puddles, I found myself explaining the psychology detriments of being favourite to win.
It is no surprise to most of you that we (Cambridge) were almost gloating from the onset of the race that we would not only win, but win our 2nd year in a row. It was a them against us mentality. However, the true challenge in rowing is the competition between the crew and every stroke of the race course, the 9 team mates and the clock, and most importantly each individual and the little voice inside shouting about the pain, the distance, the effort.
Success in rowing is all about the crew’s mental ability not only to handle the pain and fatigue of oxygen debt, but their ability to master the limits that others impose upon them.
Both teams undoubtedly trained to the best of their abilities physically and kudos to both of them, that course is a tough one. Once Oxford had such a lead, the Cambridge crew’s bodies and minds must have been screaming for mercy. It is in that moment that you either stay with the discomfort or you push beyond any limits imaginable, up the power, lengthen those strokes and bring the boat home.
The best way to win is to get comfortable being uncomfortable – this is true in life as much as it is in sport.
Winners build their success on their failures, so no doubt next year Oxford better watch out as Cambridge will be training harder and smarter this year to regain their title.
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