Much is still unclear about the 2012 Boat Race. First and foremost, we don’t yet know how Alex Woods is; the latest we’ve heard is that he’s been taken away in an ambulance, and everyone’s thoughts are of course with him. We don’t yet know who the rogue swimmer was, nor what he was doing in the water (a protest, one assumes, or perhaps just a head case). And then the disaster of the blade clash and Oxford’s brave decision to keep rowing despite the certain loss that was facing them (one commentator suggested that they should just stop in order to save face).
What we can say with certainty is that the Boat Race 2012 will go down in history, and not for all the right reasons. Much will be said about the swimmer and about the umpire’s call over the blade clash, and I’ll not go into that as the pundits will have more than enough to say on the subject later on.
There were two things that stuck in my mind, though. The first was Cambridge’s initial elation after what could only be described as a hollow victory. Of course they could be forgiven for being delighted with a win, whatever the circumstances; they’d worked phenomenally hard for a year and dealt with a difficult and stressful race with courage and strength. And yet I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as they whooped and splashed and stood up in the boat and generally carried on as if it had been a normal win in normal circumstances. Perhaps, with my history of losing races, I identify too strongly with the unfortunate losers (and I’ll confess I’m an Oxford girl myself, so am bound to be a bit partial), but given the interruption and restart when Oxford were ahead and looking like they might well win, coupled with the fact that (whatever the merits of the umpire’s decision), Oxford had been a man down, it still felt a bit wrong. Not quite cricket. Certainly not quite Henley.
But the second thing that struck me was the speed with which they adjusted their behaviour when Oxford’s bow man, Alex Woods, was lifted out of the boat, clearly in trouble. Their smiles soon became muted and their celebrations dignified. Woods’ crisis reminded everyone what was really important. It’s a shame that we need a man being taken away in an ambulance to remind us what matters most, but at least it did. Sport, after all, should be sporting and the Boat Race should epitomise that. Oh, and to prove that I can practise what I preach… Congratulations, Cambridge; commiserations, Oxford; and get well soon, Alex.