Clash of oars breaks Cambridge hopes

Oxford's crew celebrate in style with a large bottle of Bollinger champagne. Picture: AP Photo
Oxford's crew celebrate in style with a large bottle of Bollinger champagne. Picture: AP Photo
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THE clash that handed Oxford the biggest Boat Race victory since 1973 broke Cambridge’s Luke Juckett’s rig, leaving the American’s oar dragging underwater for more than half the race.

Boat Race debutant Juckett accepted the decision of umpire Richard Phelps to reject Cambridge’s appeal against his ruling Oxford had committed no foul when the crews clashed at Harrods Depository, causing the Cambridge two seat to miss at least five strokes.

The hot favourite Dark Blues won the toss and opted to start from the Surrey Station, the south side of the Thames. Once again it proved decisive, the race won by the crew taking the south bank for the fourth year in succession. The start of the race was delayed by three minutes as both crews struggled to keep their boats straight.

Immediately the crews almost clashed as they battled for the deepest and therefore fastest water.

Oxford had already sneaked a lead ahead of Hammersmith Bridge, and coasted to an 11-length victory after the race-defining collision.

St Edmunds College Natural Sciences student Juckett admitted there was no way Cambridge could mount a competitive challenge once his equipment was so severely damaged.

“It was a pretty basic clash, you know it’s going to happen, we all knew it’s a possibility it could happen,” said 23-year-old Juckett.

“There’s no real way to prepare for something like that, however I believe it was Sam O’Connor (Oxford seven seat), his blade or whatever, he caught my blade and turned it into the water.

“And that happens, there’s no way to correct it once it happens.

“We were going one way and the water was going the other, so it catches your blade, it just punched me in the chest basically. It took me out – not only did it wrench my blade out of my hands, it was bent, and my rig was broken by the end of the race. So for the rest of the race it was dragging my blade under water, so it’s really hard to keep rowing when that happens.”

Oxford coasted to their fifth Boat Race victory in seven years, and coach Sean Bowden’s tenth victory in 15 years in charge of the Dark Blues.

Juckett said his rig, the mechanism that cradles the oar, was damaged sufficiently to impede Cambridge for the remainder of the race.

“It happened so quickly there’s no real way to avoid it,” explained the University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate.

“One second I’m looking over, the next my oar’s stuck under water.

“I’m pretty upset, that’s my first Boat Race and definitely not how I wanted things to go for my team-mates.

“They took a push and we knew they were going to take a push at Hammersmith, that’s what they did, they were moving pretty good. But we’d found our rhythm, we were moving pretty confidently going into the bend there, we had a sound rhythm and something like that really throws you off.

“You have to suck it up and keep going which is what we did, so I’m really proud of the guys for that, but after something like that it is hard to keep going.”

Cambridge cox Ian Middleton spent several minutes contesting umpire Phelps’ decision at the end of the race while still on the water. But Juckett conceded that despite the protests Cambridge simply have to accept defeat with good grace.

“To be honest I couldn’t quite hear either, I was in my own little world trying to figure out what happened,” he said. “But from what I gather Oxford had not veered from their station, so under the rules they had no real need to move.”

Umpire Phelps stood by his decision after the race, while admitting Cambridge may never truly accept his call on the clash that gifted Oxford a clear-water victory. Phelps said his decision is now final, and not subject to any further appeal, despite Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore suggesting he would ask for race footage to be reviewed.

“From my perspective Oxford were on their proper station, quite clearly, I had warned him, he had moved and was on his proper station,” said Phelps.

“So for there to have been contact it can only have been neutral water or at the very worst Cambridge were off their station. I don’t know if they will ever accept that result, I told them I was overruling their appeal and my advice was that they congratulate the winners, which their president then duly did.

“It is very tragic, but that’s the Boat Race: if you want an easy, clean Boat Race, go to Lucerne and race it in July on flat water. The Boat Race is on a bendy river with twists and turns, and disagreements about where the stream is, that’s why it’s interesting and that’s why umpiring it is one of the most challenging but fascinating tasks you can ever take on.”