Months of effort and practice went into both crews’ preparation. Charles Walmsley asks what Trenton Oldfield thought he could achieve by stopping them.
Sport operates in the space between mistakes and luck, where anything can happen and even the best preparation can be waylaid by one mistake, one lucky bounce or one second of madness. All a team or player can do is reduce the gap between the two, ensure that the chance for mistake is minimal and that every second is planned for before the match. Even Barcelona, arguably the most well drilled football team of all time, can’t close this gap entirely; against Osasuna they lost 1-0 despite having 16 shots on target compared to 1. There will always be something which can be exploited, or somewhere a mistake can happen.
Alternatively some prick can ruin the event for you.
Whatever your views on the boat race, rowing or even Oxbridge in general, for one day these students are competitors. For many it is the high point of their career, their Champions League Final or Wimbledon Centre Court match. More than most fixtures Oxford vs. Cambridge is the culmination of a season of hard work – as Cambridge Rugby captain Matt Guinness-King commented before his own Varsity fixture ‘if you win your season is a 100 per cent success, but if you lose it is an abject failure…all those months of hard work go to waste’. To have those months go to waste because the other team is better is devastating. To lose because of a jumped up ‘Marxist’, well that’s ridiculous.
If we ignore the odd logic that thinks by disrupting a boat race you can bring down the ‘elite’, which is effectively the same as saying you could stop the Iraq war by streaking in a Labour football match, the protest still looks ridiculous; given that there was no way of seeing his message during the race he could have been protesting against the 20% pasty tax for all I knew. His actual ‘message’ by the way seems to consist of nothing more than rambling pieces on a blog about an abstract ‘elite’ that run country. Hardly Che Guevara material.
The race itself was shaping up to be the best in recent memory, with Cambridge defying bookmakers (and our earlier blog) to run Oxford close to the line. At the time it was stopped Oxford were just ahead and, with the bend in their favour, looked to take a decisive lead. As it was the race was restarted on difficult waters, with Cambridge benefitting from the new starting position and the loss of momentum which must have greatly affected the smaller Oxford crew, not to mention the psychological effect of seeing your hard worked lead disappear into nothing.
When the two boats collided only 35 seconds after the restart, leading to Hanno Weinhausen’s blade breaking, umpire John Garrett probably made the right decision by the rules – whether he could have make a special dispensation given the unusual circumstances of the restart is another question. Perhaps abandonment would have been better, with no competition there hardly seemed much point in continuing; as Oxford cox Zoe de Toledo said at the end ‘we can’t have a race that ends like this’. Even Cambridge will be ruing the actions of Trenton Oldfield (very working class name by the way) as the chance to snatch a memorable underdog victory was taken away.
Dr Alexander Woods’ collapse at the end served to remind us of the physical effort these athletes put in. Rowing further than expected (already the course in longer than most) and finishing with a reduced crew really puts extra strain on the body. Thankfully he is in a stable condition and will hopefully make a full recovery.
Eyes will now shift to the, no doubt more secure, Olympics. Hopefully nothing similar will blight the games. Protest is one of the most important parts of our democracy, we only have to look towards Syria or Bahrain to understand why. When it becomes a pathetic attempt to gain fame at the price of others’ work, though, it quickly becomes farce.