Cambridge Sink In Boat Race

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Cambridge Sink In Boat Race

Barnes, London The 25th of March 1978 AD

It began in 1829 (when on June 10 the Oxford boat won), and became an annual thing in 1856. Since then the varsity boat race has been part of our sporting calendar, though given (as has frequently been pointed out) the same two teams always get to the final, and that results that go against form are infrequent, it rarely offers fingernail biting tension.
But on six occasions in its history the boat race has managed to spring the surprise of a sinking, the first time in 1859, and the most recent in 1984. In 1912 both boats sank, forcing a re-rowing on the following Monday.
For some reason the sinking that most stays in the memory was that in 1978. Choppy waters from a more than brisk sou’wester made life difficult for both crews. Past Chiswick Steps Oxford had a lead, but at about a boat length it was nowhere near as much as experts had expected, giving the Cambridge crew hope of a comeback over the last stages. But it was not to be.
Through Barnes Bridge and to observers the end for the Cambridge boat was all but inevitable. Their stroke realised first, or at least allowed himself to believe what he was seeing. He waved his arms above his head to signal the bitter end. For some reason while Oxford had sensibly fitted splashboards to their boat, Cambridge had gambled that they could do without them. They were wrong. Water from the rough surface of the Thames splashed over their boat and filled it.
TV crews had a field day. For the first time since 1951 we were being treated to the sight not just of muscular and brilliant young men – Hugh Laurie one of them in 1980 for example, and the ill-fated mountaineer Sandy Irvine in 1922 and 1923 - in a test of character, endurance and skill, but of those same chaps ignominiously sinking. Let’s face it, this was at least half the result most of us wanted.
Was it unsporting of Oxford to refuse a re-match? Not really, they were leading even with the extra weight of the splashboards. And the Thames that March weekend was a pretty blustery spot. There were no drownings by the way.

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