Championship course, 15th march 2020
Amanda Thomas and Charlotte Lee
The 37th Women’s Lightweight Boat Race was the first to take place on the Championship Course in London: a wonderful milestone in the history of OUWLRC.
After a long trialling season and selection period, having faced flooding, the usual round of injuries and illness, and disruptions in match racing due to winter storms, nine of us had made it into the Blue Boat. With a lot of hard work from our coaches Martin and Nic, our Exec and student committees, and the whole squad in general, we arrived at race day feeling well prepared to face Cambridge’s challenge.
We travelled up to the Tideway on Friday 13th, giving us time for a practice outing on Friday afternoon and a chance to settle in at our host club, Putney High School. Saturday brought a new dose of adrenaline as we had our official ‘practice starts’ outing, as well as the official challenge with our Cambridge counterparts, the reserves crews and the lightweight men’s crews (and some enthusiastic photographers!). On Saturday afternoon we were delighted to see the Tethys 4+ win the Reserve Boat Race.
Then race day was here. We remembered being told in January that it would come around quickly – and here we were, getting ready for our pre-paddle, then weighing in, then lining up on the start.
We all knew that racing on the Championship Course could be decided either by the first few minutes or the last few. We were expecting a tough and close race. Charlotte encouraged us to take a breath, and prepare for what we were about to do.
Cambridge are notorious for their starts so we were mentally prepared to be slightly down initially and then use our rhythm and front end to accelerate the boat past them. To our surprise, we remained level – bow ball to bow ball by the Black Buoy. We found our race rhythm and got into the grind, with Charlotte squeezing every ounce of commitment and energy out of the rowers. Martin’s race plan, for us to go as hard as possible every stroke, seemed to be working, as we gradually inched out ahead of our opponents, enjoying it as Charlotte called the number of every seat she was level with.
Approaching Hammersmith Bridge, we were determined to capitalise on our advantage, especially given that we were just over ⅔ lengths up. Both crews were using the neutral water, looking for the famous second lamp post of Hammersmith Bridge. Cambridge was warned for steering and Charlotte saw stroke Clare’s face turn steely as she saw Cambridge approaching us. Cambridge dropped back after an eventful blade clash, but not before they had knocked Clare’s speedcoach out of its holder.
We entered Hammersmith Bridge, cheered on by the Lightweight Men’s Blue Boat on their warm up paddle, and shot through, meeting a wall of sound of people cheering us on from the bridge.
Here we found some rougher water, but we had trained in this water throughout the season, helped by the flooding at Wallingford and Martin’s command for Charlotte to never seek shelter whilst we trained on the Tideway. We wanted this water and we wanted to use our rough-water technique to gain valuable inches.
We began to tire but for a brief beautiful moment, we had a few inches of clear water. Cambridge overall recovered better than us after the blade clash, despite initially falling behind, and started to make up the distance between the two crews. We don’t remember these moments clearly – now, they are not important. What matters is that Cambridge at this moment, had the fitness and moved off together in an admirable push around the outside of Hammersmith Bend, to eventually overtake us. We were drained by the last kilometer, but proud of each other and the race we had.
We were helped in to land by our squad – their support and presence making it the best way to lose: with people you love. We regrouped together, overwhelmed by the physical and mental effort we had put in, and the emotional rollercoaster of the race.
With so many changes this season, from our coaching team to the race course and more, we are grateful that the love and support we received remained the same. We are proud to have raced for Oxford and joined the long line of women, each who have sat in our seat, and won or lost together. We remain relentless and are comforted that next year, next time, Oxford will go again!
We’d like to thank everyone who helped us get to race day: Head Coach Martin Cambareri and Assistant Coach Nic Thomas, our support team of nutritionist Beth Cragg, physio Will Bourne-Taylor, massage therapists Tamsin, Lynne, and Holly, the ever-willing-to-help Chris O’Hara, our hosts in London, Mortlake Anglian and Alpha Rowing Club and Putney High School, the OUWLRC Executive Committee, and everyone else who has supported the club this season and in the past.