Sunday 6 April, 4.30pm, Putney Bridge. 149th renewal of The Boat Race. Cambridge had won the toss and had positioned themselves on the Surrey station. The Oxford crew was attached to the Middlesex stakeboat. It was time.
On Thursday, Cambridge were clear favourites. They were the heavier crew, averaging 7 kilograms more per man than Oxford. Their rhythm looked looser, more comfortable than the punchier Oxford style. By Friday, uncertainty raged: whilst on their morning outing, the Cambridge crew collided with the Harbour Master's launch. Wayne Pommen, the bow-man, was taken to hospital with a "sore wrist". It was later confimed to be broken. There was perhaps a loss of confidence, almost certainly a loss of continuity. Enter Ben Smith, brought up from Goldie, the Cambridge Reserve Boat. There was no loss of tension. Two sets of brothers were now competing against each other. James Livingston and Ben Smith were in the Cambridge boat; David Livingston and President Matt Smith in the Oxford crew.
When the coxes dropped their hands, signifying that they were ready, the Umpire quickly brought the crews to attention and let them go. Cambridge were slower to take their first stroke, but this was not entirely unexpected. The Oxford bow-man missed the first stroke, but the Dark Blues forged ahead, striking a higher rate than Cambridge. On the Fulham bend, Oxford had taken advantage of their Middlesex draw and were a third of a length up. As the river began to swing towards the Surrey bank, Cambridge assumed their advantage and were three-quarters of a length ahead by Hammersmith Bridge. Cambridge pushed off of Hammersmith Bridge, trying to break clear of Oxford. The Dark Blues were tenacious, they clung on.
By Chiswick Steps, as the Surrey bank lost its advantage, Cambridge had failed to put clear water between themselves and Oxford. Acer Nethercott, the Oxford cox, was heard to say to his crew: "This is Oxford's race, boys!" The bend would soon swing to Oxford's favour, they were still in touch, it was their race for the taking. Yet, could they hold on through the open water where the heavier Cambridge crew would find it easier in the wind?
Through the Chiswick Reach, blades were seen to clash as each cox attacked and defended for the best position in the stream. The Umpire had worked hard throughout the race to keep the boats apart, he might have been desperate at this point. Oxford attacked on the Middlesex bend; at Barnes Bridge, three-quarters of a mile from the finish, they had a three-quarter length lead. Yes, it seemed that they could hold on.
Barnes Bridge marks a critical point; only twice have a trailing crew come by to win from that point. Oxford had achieved that remarkable feat last year. With every stroke from Barnes Bridge to the finish, Cambridge's weight advantage began to tell. With every stroke, the Light Blues drew more level with the Oxford boat. Hearts were in mouths, whether Cambridge or Oxford supporters. Each crew was fighting for every stroke. Oxford had raised their strike rate to 40 strokes per minute; Cambridge were trying to lengthen each stroke. By the finish, Cambridge had drawn close enough to demand a photograph. Under Chiswick Bridge, both crews lay exhausted, awaiting the result. Had Oxford held on? Had Cambridge surged ahead?
Over the tannoy: "Verdict: Oxford by 1 foot!" Jubilation and desolation lay within twelve inches. Incredibly, after 4 miles 374 yards both crews crossed the line in 18 minutes, 6 seconds. Maybe even more unbelievably, Goldie had earlier beaten Isis by three-and-half lengths, in 18 minutes 4 seconds. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be for Cambridge.
Would a dead heat have been more fair? All that way with so little to distinguish them; all those hours of training and dedication; the incredible displays of coxing, of tenacity and determination? My father said: "It's racing, there has to be a winner." As a sportsman, he might be right. As mothers, Matt and Ben Smith's mother and David and James Livingston's mother might disagree.
- Mile Post: 3:55 Oxford, 3:56 Cambridge
- Hammersmith Bridge: 7:10 Cambridge, 7:11 Oxford
- Chiswick Steps: 11:11 Cambridge, 11:12 Oxford
- Barnes Bridge: 15:03 Oxford, 15:05 Cambridge
- Finish: 18:06 Both Crews
Bow: John Adams (20) 6'4" 83kg British (Eton and University)
2: Basil Dixon (21) 6'2" 93kg British (Bedford and Pembroke)
3: Samuel McLennan (23) 6'2" 90kg Australian (Pembroke and Corpus Christi)
4: Scott Fransden (22) 6'1" 83kg Canadian (Hampton and Christ Church)
5: Robin Bourne-Taylor (21) 6'3" 87kg British (Abingdon and Christ Church)
6: David Livingston (19) 6'7" 92kg British (Brentwood and St Edmund Hall)
7: Henry Morris (20) 6'1" 82kg British (Radley and Magdalen)
Stroke: Matt Smith (20) 6'1" 81kg British (Hampton and St Anne's)
Cox: Acer Nethercott (25) 5'8" 55kg British (Mark Hall and University)
Bow: Ben Smith British (Hampton and Trinity Hall)
2: Matthias Kleinz (27) 6'2" 83kg German (Tilemannschule Limburg and Gonville and Caius)
3: Henry Mallinson (23) 6'5" 96kg American (Phillips Exeter and St Catharine's)
4: Kristopher Coventry (25) 6'5" 89kg Australian (The Scots and Queen's)
5: Alexander McGarel-Groves (22) 6'6" 97kg British (Eton and Peterhouse)
6: Thomas James (19) 6'3" 86kg British (King's and Trinity Hall)
7: James Livingston (22) 6'5" 95kg British (Hampton and St Catharine's)
Stroke: Tim Wooge (30) 6'7" 100kg German (Otto-Pankok and Peterhouse)
Cox: James Omartian (23) 5'6" 55kg American (Simsbury and St Catharine's)
Thanks to BBC and The Telegraph