Oxford hold off stubborn Cambridge challenge to claim fourth Boat Race victory in five years

Jim White

The 163rd Cancer Research UK University Boat Race ended as the first had in 1829: with victory for Oxford. Leading from start to finish, the Dark Blue crew completed their fourth victory in five years in a time of 17min 02sec. 

But not for a moment across the 4.2 mile course did victory look ­assured, even for a crew who began the race as the favourites with the bookmakers.

Oliver Cook, who had ­celebrated the victory by embracing his brother and fellow Oxford oarsman Jamie as the winning boat bobbled under Chiswick Bridge, said: ­“Seriously, the first moment I thought we’d won was when ­Olivier [Siegelaar] in front of me punched the water as we crossed the line.

Oxford enjoy that winning feeling Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“It was tough the whole way. Cambridge did an amazing job in always being in the race. They never let go.” 

He was right. This was a gruelling, ­relentless haul, with Cambridge showing extraordinary resilience as they ­refused to be cowed, refused whatever Oxford did to be thrown off their dogged pursuit, refused to give up. But stronger, cleaner, smoother in their execution, it was the Oxford crew who ultimately prevailed.

Sean Bowden, the Oxford coach, who was recording his 12th victory with the Dark Blues, said: “We knew, if we rowed as we could, that it would take a great boat to beat us.”

Good as they were, it turned out that Cambridge were not great enough.

Spectators line the Thames Credit: GETTY IMAGES

It was a glorious day on the Tideway. The river was flat and calm, the banks were rammed with ­upward of a quarter of a million spectators who had been marinating all afternoon in the compelling combination of the spring sun and Pimm’s. Every vantage point was taken. Dozens watched from the top of St Mary’s Church tower by Putney Bridge, near Barnes Bridge a man in the slightest pair of Speedos viewed events from atop a bus shelter. Everywhere, the whiff of barbecue wafted across the river.

And after watching their female colleagues begin catastrophically as the putative astronaut Rebecca Esselstein caught a crab on her first stroke, Oxford started as if rocket fuelled. Hauling off at a rate of 40 strokes per minute, they took ­immediate advantage, smoothly pushing forward to establish an early lead they were destined not  to relinquish.

They were half a length ahead as the boats passed Fulham Football Club, the statue of Johnny Haynes – England’s first £100-a-week footballer – surveying the epitome of an amateur sporting contest as it skimmed by. 

Oxford pull away from Cambridge Credit: PA

Here, in the scramble for the smoothest passage, the two boats came perilously close, Matthew Pinsent semaphoring frantically from the umpire’s launch, waving his white flag like a signaler on board Nelson’s Victory.

As cyclists kept pace with the boats on the south bank, Oxford pressed hard just before the bend at Hammersmith for a decisive push. It meant they passed Hammersmith Bridge half a length in front, easing along at 36 strokes per minute. 

Past the houseboats at Dove Pier, where a police launch kept an eye for another swimming intrusion from there like the one that had disturbed the race in 2012, Oxford were now reinforcing their ascendancy. They moved in front into the clean water, obliging their rivals to row in their wash.

Oxford extend their lead Credit: GETTY IMAGES

But still Cambridge refused to be thrown off, pulling back some of the distance as the boats sped past the Chiswick Reach. But ultimately it was not enough. And as the boats crossed the finishing line it was Oxford whose cox was slapping water.

Oxford town may have lost the football earlier in the day, down the road at Wembley, where United were beaten by Coventry City in the Checkatrade Trophy final. But Oxford gown now had its moment on the Thames. 

And for William Warr, the Oxford convert who had been in the ­defeated Cambridge boat in 2015, it was personal vindication. He had been accused of treachery by his former team-mates, who refused to acknowledge his existence in the build-up to the race. And here he was a winner as his vanquished former mates sat distraught in their boat a couple of feet away. Not that he was in any mood to celebrate.

Spectators gather on Hammersmith Bridge Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“That was a really hard race,” he said, after he had returned to dry land and had shaken each of the defeated crew by the hand. “Respect to Cambridge. I just said to them, ‘Good race’, not much more than that. There’s not much more I could say. I know how hard it is to lose.” 

Indeed, by now the losers had disappeared. In front of the Mortlake Rowing Club it was the victors who held sway. 

Amid a gathering shower of champagne, the day’s two victorious crews attempted to maintain tradition with a synchronised throw of their cox into the water. But Oxford’s men won that race too, dispatching the chap who steered them to victory into the river ahead of Cambridge’s women.

With that, for the Cook brothers there was the opportunity to enjoy the moment with their family, to recall their grandfather who had died earlier in the year and missed out on watching the boys’ triumph. Not that Oliver’s celebrations will be extensive. He was due to join the Great Britain squad in a training camp first thing on Monday morning.

“I’m going to make sure he misses his flight,” said his brother Jamie. “That’s my job.” At least, when it mattered most, they did not miss the boat.

6:02PM

Oxford regain the title

 

5:58PM

OXFORD WIN THE BOAT RACE

Oxford cruise over the line to win with a time of 17 minutes exactly. 

5:57PM

16 minutes

Matthew Pinsent unhappy that Oxford do not have enough of a lead to move across into Cambridge's waters. They have been in a commanding position throughout but have not been able to shake Cambridge off. 

5:55PM

15 minutes

Cambridge hanging in there, but it would be a remarkable comeback from here. 

5:54PM

13 minutes

Oxford have withstood a push from the light blues, and Umpire Matthew Pinsent is instructing both boats to stay in their own channels. The dark blues have a significant lead now as we go under Barnes Bridge. 

5:51PM

10 minutes

Oxford's greater experience is showing, their lead is approaching a length now. Cambridge do have some advantageous stretches of water upcoming, however. 

5:47PM

8 minutes

The blades are actually crashing now, as both teams fight for a central channel of water. Cambridge were ordered to steer away laterally and that cost them a stroke. Oxford have almost a length advantage now. 

Will take an almighty effort for the light blues to get back into this as the two crews go under Hammersmith Bridge. 

5:45PM

5 minutes

The blades are awfully close now, and Cambridge have used that bend to narrow Oxford's lead to no more than a quarter of a length. 

5:42PM

2 minutes

Oxford have a slight advantage in the very early stages, but it's a lead of only a half a length or so. Solid start by the dark blues. But Cambridge have some advantageous bends coming up. 

5:40PM

Almost ready

Boats in the water now and we are ready to go for the main event. 

Things delayed for no apparent reason. Umpire boat finally in place.

And they are off...

Start

5:32PM

Rivalry even more intense this year

Not quite David Haye against Tony Bellew, but there was a stare-off between the captains earlier this week. 

5:28PM

Women's race celebrations

5:22PM

Part II of the Celebrity Boat Race 

In case anyone out there could care less, we are now seeing the final result of the Beeb's much publicised 'Celebrity Boat Race.' I hope this is a highlights package or else it might take about 45 minutes. 

Sir Steve Redgrave's 'Purple Crew' were the victorious boat. 

5:15PM

As you will have noticed, Oxford have two brothers in their crew 

The champagne has been uncorked as Cambridge women's team lift their trophy. Read our full interview with Oxford's Cook brothers, Ollie and Jamie, who are spurred on by a healthy sense of sibling rivalry. 

5:09PM

Here are the two crews

The Boat Race 2017 crew 5:08PM

Men's coin toss reminder

A reminder that Oxford won the toss and chose to start in the Surrey side of the river, which has proved a fruitful starting spot. 

5:05PM

More on that awful Oxford start

Oxford's boat was unbalanced at the start of the race, to the extent that their cox Eleanor Shearer called 'easy there', which effectively means stop the boat. 

5:01PM

Cambridge bow Ashton Brown

Couldn't have done it without an amazing squad. So proud of my squad, couldn't have done it without them. 

We got the race we wanted to have. Last year we felt a bit robbed. 

4:54PM

Cambridge win the women's race

Matthew Holland the Cambridge Cox is driving the light blues home and they cross the line in 18 minutes and 33 seconds. 

Oxford a distant second with a time of 19 minutes and five seconds. 

4:51PM

15 minutes

Cambridge were strong favourites pre-race and may have prevailed no matter what, but that abysmal Oxford start has turned this into a procession. We're going under Barnes Bridge now. 

4:48PM

12 minutes

This would be Cambridge's first victory in this race for five years, and they are in a commanding position now. We're in very calm waters now as we approach Chiswick and nothing can surely stop the light blues bar an act of god. 

4:44PM

8 minutes 

Oxford's awful start

 We are now on the bend of the race that should favour Oxford, were they not so far behind. Cambridge must be ahead by a good half a dozen lengths. 

4:40PM

5 minutes

Oxford have a dilemma. If they start chasing too early they risk burning themselves out completely. 

4:37PM

2 minutes - Nightmare start for Oxford

Dreadful start for Oxford. The old saying that you can't win the race early but you can certainly lose it applies. Cambridge establish an immediate lead of four lengths. 

'Catching a crab' is the rowing jargon for a slow start, which is a wonderfully quaint expression. 

4:35PM

We're off 

The women's Boat Race 2017 is under way. All those early starts on cold mornings come down to this. 

4:32PM

Almost ready for the women's race to start

The two crews are lining up at Putney Bridge for the four-and-a-quarter mile trip to Mortake. 

4:28PM

No repeats of last year's peril

A re-cap of last year's women's race. Oxford's boat nearly drowned amid the high and choppy waters shortly after Hammersmith Bridge. Cambridge carried on to win the race by default. 

4:23PM

Celebrity boat race

We have just been treated to a 'to be continued' version of the celebrity boat race. Comedian Mark Watson says the Beeb 'cut out a lot of the swearing', which is an almighty shame. They've got to fill the build-up, somehow. 

4:18PM

Katherine Grainger part of BBC's coverage

Katherine Grainger and Clare Balding setting the scene for television viewers from the balcony of the Thames Rowing Club. 

BBC coverage

4:15PM

Both crews are out ahead of the women's race

4:12PM

Helen Glover speaks on winning Gold in Rio

It was very very surreal, crossing the line to defend the title we won in London. That was the goal that drove us on every morning. 

Read her full interview with Telegraph Sport here

4:07PM

Spectators along the Thames

Boat Race fans

4:03PM

Claire Balding our presenter

The unexploded World War II bomb that was found will have no impact on the course or nature of this race whatsoever. The organisers were given the green light by Police this morning. 

3:59PM

Here is the prize they'll be competing for

Credit: PA

3:56PM

Beeb coverage starting in a few minutes

3:53PM

Splitters!

All eyes on Oxford's William Warr today, who becomes only the third man in the history of the race to row for both crews. 

Two year's ago he was in the Cambridge boat, and some of his former teammates are now his rivals. Cambridge have promised him a wall of silence, it seems. 

3:38PM

Oxford's men win the toss and opt for Surrey

3:36PM

While you're waiting

Some reading matter for you as the clock ticks towards the off: Jim White's interview with Oxford's American debutant Rebecca Esselstein

She had never set foot in a boat when she arrived at Oxford last September, yet is part of the most famous rowing race in the world this afternoon. 

3:22PM

Scenes from the Adnams fun park

The crowds building at The Adnams Fan Park in Furnival Gardens, Hammersmith, in anticipation for the start of The Boat Races.

Adnams fan park

3:15PM

Jim White: Royal Flottila

The Queen's barge the gloriana has just rocked up leading a flotilla of gondolas. No sign of the Queen on board however.

Queen's flotilla 

3:09PM

Jim White: Cambridge win the toss for women's race

Two crews line up for the toss for the women's race. Cambridge win and choose Surrey station.

Oxford and Cambridge women's

3:08PM

Good afternoon and welcome

Greetings, and welcome to live coverage of the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. I am pleased to report conditions look ideal in London, unlike the choppy waters that made last year's event such a gruelling test. 

We have Jim White on the Thames this afternoon, and he will be providing regular updates as we slowly count down to the men's race which is expected to get under way at 5.35pm. 

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes