Oxford Boat Race crew reveal sickness problems after Cambridge double up

The Oxford men’s cox, William Denegri, revealed several team members were struck down by illness in the week, after Cambridge’s commanding success in the women’s and men’s Boat Races.

The scandal surrounding high levels of E coli bacteria detected in the Thames dominated the buildup and Denegri said the team’s preparation was significantly hampered by sickness. “This week we’ve had three people who’ve had to miss sessions because they’ve had stomach bugs,” he said.

“Whether that’s related to E coli in the river I don’t know. But it’s certainly not helped our campaign. That’s a poor excuse, it’s not an excuse, but it’s definitely not helped our preparation.”

Ed Bracey, the Cambridge men’s cox, said that despite widespread concerns about pollution he would have been happy to be thrown in the water by teammates in line with tradition. “We’ve been splashing about in that for weeks and weeks,” he said.

But he was swiftly overruled by the Cambridge coach, Rob Baker. “I know he would like to but we don’t want to risk it,” he said. “Absolutely not. We’ve been really lucky – we’ve been healthy – but we don’t want to take any risks.”

The victorious Cambridge men’s captain, Seb Benzecry, after his third victory in their Blue boat, said: “As rowers we want clean waterways. Water quality is a concern.”

Jelmer Bennema, the Dutchman on Oxford men’s team, said: “I’m sorry but I’m really ill. I’m not going to go to the dinner.” Bennema was apparently not one of the three sick team members referred to by Denegri.

Cambridge’s women had earlier confounded pre-race expectations, as well as a commanding start by Oxford, to win their seventh straight race. Oxford, the favourites, flew into half a length’s lead at Craven Cottage, and it was a full length when they approached the sweeping Surrey bend on a bright, fresh spring day.

But Cambridge found their rhythm and under the calm guidance of their cox, Hannah Murphy, began to eat into their rivals’ lead.

The decisive moment in a thrilling contest came at the Chiswick Steps, when there was contact between the boats after Cambridge had forged ahead by nearly a full length.

After the finish, the Oxford cox, Joe Gellett, protested to the umpire, Richard Phelps, that Cambridge had steered into their water.

The collision between boats in the women’s race led to Oxford contesting Cambridge’s victory. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

“You warned them they were in our water. I was still in my station,” Gellett said of the incident, after which Cambridge built an unassailable lead, winning in a time of 21min 17sec. Oxford came in 17sec behind.

“My view is that you were out of your water when you had contact,” said the umpire. “My view is you deliberately steered towards their station.”

After a long debate from boats floating in the shadow of Chiswick Bridge, the umpire finally raised his white flag to confirm Cambridge as winners. “We’ve done it again!” was the cry from the Cambridge boat.

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“Just crossing the line we were all just super proud,” Murphy told the BBC. “We knew that was the fastest race we could put down. It’s pure pride on our part.”

Gemma King said: “We knew our strongest feature was our base pace. We were really confident in it. We knew that was our power that could bring us back through. I’m really proud of us.”

In the men’s race, Cambridge led from start to finish to make it six wins out of the past nine races. They built half a length’s lead by Hammersmith Bridge and by halfway there was clear water between the boats.

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Both were warned for their steering by the umpire, Matthew Pinsent, and there was a risk of a clash of oars. But by the time the boats passed the Chiswick Eyot, there was only going to be one winner.

The prospect of a Cambridge collapse briefly came in the closing stages when Matt Edge was visibly exhausted and all but stopped rowing but they won by three and half lengths in a time of 18min 56sec.

“Credit to Matt for pushing himself beyond that red line,” said Benzecry. “I’m just so proud of Matt for putting himself into that place. He’s an absolute warrior.”

Bracey said: “The emotion of crossing the line was more relief than joy, initially. Those last few minutes it was just: ‘Let’s get this thing done’. Now it’s starting to dawn on me how sick this is.”

“Sick” for Cambridge and genuine sickness for Oxford.

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