Boat Race Flashback to 2002: Oxford´s epic comeback after collapse

Boat Race Flashback to 2002: Oxford´s epic comeback after collapse

(Original article from Oxford won the greatest University Boat Race for 50 years yesterday, coming from behind on the outside of the last sharp bend at Barnes to win by two-thirds of a length. It was a magnificent performance as the Dark Blues mounted attack after attack against a Cambridge crew that, on paper, had the advantage of having experienced international oarsmen in most seats.

Although they lost the toss in this 148th Boat Race, Oxford led briefly on the Surrey station as Cambridge seemed to hesitate. But they were trailing by the mile post and did not lead again until they forced their way past a desperate Cambridge crew in the last minute of an astonishing battle. Sebastian Mayer, Cambridge's German number four, needed medical attention at the end.

'It's the best race I've ever rowed and the best crew I've been in,' said Oxford's stroke, Matthew Smith, at 12st 4lb the lightest man in the race, who won the event in his first year but lost in 2001. 'After our bend had run out, when we should have moved ahead, we started coming back on their bend and Ben Burch [the Oxford president and number six] called, "We can still win this". So we upped the pressure again.' Although Cambridge' s stroke, Rick Dunn, a double-world champion, looked relaxed and confident, Oxford's continuing aggression was keeping them in the race with Smith rowing three strokes a minute more than Cambridge.

There was never more than half a length in it as the coxes, Peter Hackworth of Oxford and Eleanor Griggs, both from the local Tideway school St Paul's, vied for the best stream. Once Cambridge had taken the lead, it seemed that their long, elastic stroke would take them away. In contrast, Oxford's more urgent, punchy style suggested that they would run out of steam. In the event the reverse was true. Oxford's powerful men in the middle - 'the meat wagon' - grew in confidence as the race progressed.

For Dan Perkins, who has undergone surgery twice in the past four years for a brain tumour, this was a spectacular return to the peak of fitness. 'It was painful, but I've had it worse,' he said. 'Getting through the cancer has definitely made me stronger mentally. In a battle, you have to get it right and we did that today.'

Perkins will return to America with the ambition of winning an Olympic place in the United States squad for the 2004 Athens Games.

Not since 1952 has the race gone to the wire, with the trailing crew going past. In 1980, Oxford held off Cambridge to win by six feet when their bowman col lapsed seven minutes from the end of the race.

'I believed that if we could get through Barnes Bridge well we could still do it,' said the Oxford coach, Sean Bowden. 'They were rowing so well and I knew how much they wanted it.'

Freshman Basil Dixon was overwhelmed. 'I can't believe it,' he said. 'As our corner ended at St Paul's, I thought, "Oh shit - we're in a bit of bother here". But Smithy was incredible.'

The Cambridge president and bow, Tom Stallard, admitted that his crew had expended much of their energy early in the race and did not have the stamina to cling on to their advantage. 'It was all we had,' he said. 'The narrow margin was not a consolation. The wheels did not quite stay on until the end.'

After last year's controversial restart, there was much pressure on the umpire, Simon Harris, and the coxes to get it right.

They made no mistakes, though, and with the threat of the lowering of the Thames Barrier removed and rowing conditions near-perfect, they were able to follow the traditional course without clashing blades.

Photo Credit: The Boat Race Company/ Row360

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