Gruelling battles fought on Henley Reach bring success to the lightweight women
The weather conditions for the 2006 Henley Boat Races were rather varied, with the risk of flooding almost leading to the postponement of the races. A strong tailwind and very fast stream brought mixed blessings, but ensured record breaking times in all the races. The heavyweight reserves (Blondie) were the first women’s crew to go off and right from the start the heavier Osiris crew took the lead. Osiris reached Fawley (half way) 4 seconds ahead of Blondie, who managed to hang on but not narrow the gap through the second 1000 metres. Osiris crossed the line in a new record time of 5 mins 54 secs.
It was a very different story for the lightweight women however, whose nail biting race provided much excitement for the spectators on the bank. Extremely challenging conditions meant that cox, Kathryn Coffin had her work cut out from the start; the abnormally strong stream had moved the Berkshire stakeboat towards the bank and consequently Cambridge started the race out of the stream and scarily close to the bank. Despite this they powered away with a strong rhythm and hung to Oxford, only giving away one length. Kathryn then took control of the proceedings at 500m by reclaiming her water from the Oxford cox, who continued to be warned for his steering the rest of the way up the course. By Upper Thames (750m) the Cambridge girls were beginning their comeback and starting to move back through their opposition. It wasn’t until Rememham Farm though that the Light Blue supporters on the bank could start to breathe a sigh of relief as CUW finally drew level. The last 500m saw them move out to half a length, only to have that distance pushed back down to a canvas as they crossed the line. Victory was a sweet revenge for both Captain Sarah Farquhar and Stroke Katie Smith, both veterans of last year’s crew.
The final women’s event of the day was the race between the two Blue boats. Heavy rain and hail at the start line meant that both crews had to rely not only on raw strength, but also good rowing technique to battle through the rough water. Oxford began the race as firm favourites; they were the heavier crew and had previously shown good racing form. Cambridge however proved that it was going to be close race through their good technique and the long, powerful rhythm, set by stroke, Lizzie Woolley. Both crews flew off the stakeboats neck and neck, Oxford began to push their lead slightly, and by half-way had gained a ¾ length lead. Determined not to surrender, the Cambridge crew, spurred on by cox Rebecca Dowbiggin hung on to their opponents, meaning that Oxford were unable to shake them off entirely. In the final 400m of the race the light blues then pushed on relentlessly, taking back lost ground and narrowing the gap to a mere ½ length. The cheering on the bank from both light and dark Blue supporters grew increasingly louder as the boats approached the finish line. However the gargantuan effort of the light blues was not enough to secure victory as they crossed the line in a time of 5mins 45secs, 15 seconds inside the course record, yet 1 second behind Oxford – a very close and exciting race.
All the crews were pleased to be able to count the Vice Chancellor amongst their supporters on the day. It demonstrates the rise in importance of women’s rowing that the Vice Chancellor should want to follow the races from the umpire’s launch, even in the face of rather inclement weather conditions! We look forwards to welcoming her back next year.
photograph courtesy of Peter Twitchett