The 2012 Boat Race in three dramatic events

I almost missed the Boat Race this year. I love it enormously, and tweeted a reminder to others (and to myself) earlier in the week. I even had it in my mind to make a live commenting thread for the event. However, then I lost track of what day it was. I didn’t realise it was Saturday and the Boat Race couldn’t have been further from my mind. Thankfully, the fabulous Pat reminded me and I switched on the TV just in time to see the rowers begin their arduous journey down the Thames.

It wasn’t quite as much fun watching without the build up. In previous years, I have mocked the BBC for their overly dramatic and very long build up programme for what is, essentially, a fifteen minute race. However, without it, I didn’t know who any of the rowers were, didn’t know their stories or why they were doing what they were doing. It’s not necessary information, particularly in light of the interesting turn of events, but if it had been a normal boat race, I would have been less enthusiastic about whichever team crossed the finish line first.

Photo credit: Rachel C / Creative Commons

As it happens, there was plenty to be intrigued about without knowing who any of the people were. (Did you know, by the way, that the Oxford Cox, Zoe de Toledo, was also in The Social Network? She played a cox because those twins were rowers. Cool!) Three dramatic events occurred, with the swimmer halting the race midway through, the collision of the oars handing the win to Cambridge, and the collapse of Dr Wood of the Oxford crew at the end.

I don’t have much to say about the crazy swimmer who smiled his way through the disruption. His hopes were to stop the race from being completed, but he did not manage that. Instead, he made himself a laughing stock. Those who don’t like the Boat Race had more ammunition, those who do were left with a race ruined, and no one paid attention to his cause. Every single report I’ve read about the protest has been very vague and fluffy about what his swim was in aid of. No one really knows so there was nothing gained, really and everything lost.

There’s plenty of discussion today about one of the Oxford crews Twitter account, where he has been surprisingly prosaic in the midst of what must be crushing disappointment and anger. The phrase that sticks out for me is: “…your action speaks too loudly for me to hear you…” That one will stick, I think.

What I was really interested in was what happened once the race did restart. Within minutes, the two boats were getting close and clashing, and it didn’t take long for an Oxford rower to find himself with a broken oar. They wanted to halt the race but it continued onwards, granting Cambridge a very easy win. Eight rowers against seven is no good – particularly when that eighth person on the Oxford boat is just extra weight. He kept on pulling the strokes to keep the rhythm but it was all in vain.

The commentators on the BBC were discussing what the history books would say. “Will they mark it as a Cambridge win with an asterisk saying a swimmer halted the race midway through?” asked Jonathan Legard. They concluded it would not be that way. It would be a Cambridge win, no questions asked. In fact, they also decided that the only way Oxford could lodge any kind of note in the history books would be to stop rowing and thus it would be a win to Cambridge, with a non-finish from Oxford. People should be able to deduce from that there was a significant problem.

But the Oxford crew didn’t stop rowing, they kept on pushing to the end. Perhaps they were clinging on to the hope that something could happen to Cambridge and they had to be there to pick up the pieces if anything did occur. Or, perhaps it is a pride thing, so that it is more important to finish the race, no matter what has gone on before. I don’t know which it was, but I think it’s a really interesting debate. Should they stop when it clearly wasn’t an equal race after the restart and they had no chance of winning? Or should they finish because it was their own fault they clashed with Cambridge in the first place, and they have to take the loss with their heads held medium/low?

Year Winning Team Winning Time
2008 Oxford 20:53
2009 Oxford 17:00
2010 Cambridge 17:35
2011 Oxford 17:32
2012 Cambridge No Time

The official results did not record a time due to the restart, but that doesn’t affect the winner, or reflect the Oxford difficulties.

The other thing I noted from the race was that the Oxford cox appealed the race. There are mixed reports on what she was appealing – some say she wanted to restart the entire thing because the wash on the river was too much for the boats on the restart, others say it was because if an incident occurs within the first so many metres, there has to be another restart. Either way, the overall judge and race director John Garrett denied the requests and said the race result stood. Surely an appeal should go to someone other than the person that made the decision in the first place? Otherwise they just say, no, I’m right, hush now?

Odd goings on in the Boat Race this year. I feel sorry for everyone taking part because it ended up being a very disappointing event. I hope that Dr Wood gets better, and that the two crews (and potentials) aren’t put off training for next year. Everyone has been very quick to say this hasn’t happened in 158 years or what have you, so next year’s race can be a normal one. Finally, I hope I remember to tune in early enough next time to find out more about the people involved. Row on, chaps!

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