Upwards of 250,000 spectators lined the banks of the River Thames to see Oxford University win the 163rd men’s Boat Race, with a time of exactly 17 minutes. On Saturday afternoon an unexploded Second World War bomb was spotted near the starting line and removed from the water by police on Sunday morning – but the historic event went ahead as planned, in near-perfect race conditions.
The crews were given the starting signal at 5:40pm and the 2017 Boat Race began in dappled evening sunlight. Oxford set the early pace and swiftly stretched out a half boat-length lead, but as the boats passed Barn Elms Wetland Centre, Cambridge’s cox Hugo Ramambason roared his men onwards. His eight responded by powering back to near parity. Blades clashed as the two crews battled for the faster water, with the vast crowds cheering down from Hammersmith Bridge and the slipways. Umpire Matthew Pinsent Cambridge warned Ramambason to steer his boat away from Oxford, the slight change of direction causing his boat to crucially lose a little more water.
Cambridge then missed a half-stroke around the midway point of the 4.2 mile race, a mistake which proved a critical setback. The Light Blues were subsequently forced to expend huge amounts of energy trying to reel their opponents back in, but Oxford dug deep as the race entered its final third. Cambridge bravely remained in touching distance of their opponents, barely more than a single length behind, but they seemingly had little left in their tank. Oxford passed under the central arch of Barnes Bridge and then powered towards the finish to cross the line and jubilantly claim their 80th win overall, and their fourth in five years. They are now just two behind Cambridge’s total of 82 wins.
Celebrations in the boat were muted – due to extreme fatigue rather than a lack of emotion – but there was a touching scene when James Cook clambered back down the Oxford boat to embrace his brother, Oliver. Many of the winning Dark Blue team were on the other side of the fence last year, when Cambridge emerged victorious in choppy conditions. “We’re bitterly disappointed not to get the win today. We were pushing the whole way. Congratulations to Oxford on the win, but Cambridge will be back, ” said Cambridge president Lance Tredell.
William Warr – rowing at stroke for Oxford this year – became only the third man in history to switch sides and compete for both Universities in the Boat Race. “It hasn’t been that easy. Guys that I’ve been very close with I barely speak to anymore. Some guys didn’t respect the decision at all and said they hope I lose for Oxford,” he said before the race.
Cambridge’s ladies ended a four-year losing streak, with a comprehensive 11 length victory over Oxford. Their time of 18min 34sec is a record in the history of the women’s race, the first to break 19 minutes, and beats several of the recent winning times in the men’s contest too. The Dark Blues suffered a disastrous start when their number four-seat, Rebecca Esselstein, dug too deep on her first stroke and ‘caught a crab’ – in rowing-speak.
With one oar trapped in the water, Oxford’s lack of acceleration allowed Cambridge’s ladies to spring clear and open up a lead that they never looked in danger of relinquishing. The tears flowed in the Oxford boat as they crossed the finish line, with the result meaning that Cambridge have won the race on 42 occasions compared to Oxford’s 30 wins.