Oxford swept the board at the 2015 Boat Race, with victory in the women’s, men’s, and both reserve competitions. The women finished six-and-a-half lengths ahead of Cambridge, with 19 seconds to spare — winning for the seventh year in eight. Triumph for the women’s crew was doubly historic because this was the first year they had competed on the same course and the same day as the men. In an article published ahead of the event, we spoke to Olympian Caryn Davies and fellow crew members during training.

The magnificent eight

By Richard Lofthouse

It’s a landmark Boat Race for women this year, because for the first time (and not before time) the women will battle it out on the same stretch of the Thames, on the same day, as the men’s. A week ahead of the final selection at a weigh-in and press event in London last month, I captured the anticipation and nerves among the Oxford women’s crew and supporters when I went to watch them training.

Everyone is a teensy, weensy bit on edge, but covering it up really well. To my surprise Jen Ehr (who has since been selected as cox) explains that she is just 19, a fresher, having matriculated last year to Pembroke, in engineering. Needless to say, she is not a greenhorn at rowing, having already coxed at St Paul’s School, the boathouse of which opens directly onto the Thames in London. She says the main challenge of the Tideway course is steering. ‘It’s about how to position the boat for the conditions.’ Therein, of course, lie all sorts of minute calculations relating to wind and tide and geography.

The magnificent eightI also meet the woman who has since been selected for the crucial stroke position, Caryn Davies, 32 (pictured left for the book Rowing Blazers) — also a ‘fresher’ but in the sense that she is studying for a one year MBA at Said Business School. A woman of exceptional talent, Davies not only has degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School, but is a veteran of three Olympic Games, with two golds and a silver, all for women’s eights. She’s the most garlanded female rower in US history. If that doesn’t put the frighteners into the pale blues they’ll be made of a very impervious substance indeed.

How’s she finding Oxford, I ask Davies. Great, she says; but we talk about how there is no escape from studies as there is on certain types of  ‘football scholarship’ at certain types of US school. She notes that it is much harder to do a full-time MBA at Oxford and be a top rower than it was being a full-time athlete for the national US squad — which we all know is no picnic.

The magnificent eightBut this makes intuitive sense. Full-time athletes watch box sets of EastEnders and elevate their tired limbs. The only requirement outside physical exertion is consciously recovering. Good recovery benefits from a calm mind, not an overstimulated one.

The other question I ask concerns subject mix, and my hunch is proved right: apart from one English literature student and two MBAs, the entire women’s squad of twenty comprises solely medical science and science students. But it’s not for me to reason why this is.

The magnificent eight

Two hours later and we have raced up and down the Wallingford section of the Thames, where Oxford University Boat Club has its HQ at Fleming Boathouse. In Bosporos, a splendid honey-coloured wooden launch, we have followed the women’s crew and their coach, Canadian Christine Wilson. It is hard to know what they are trying to perfect today, but they do some hard starts. The sun shines, the chilly wind ruffles the surface of the Thames, and we all turn our minds to the bit further downstream where the tide flows in and out and the waves build.

Sponsored respectively by BNY Mellon and its UK-based subsidiary Newton, the men’s and women’s boat races are now back together, contested from Putney to Mortlake on the historic course that characterised the men’s race from its founding in 1829. The women’s race began in 1929.

Cambridge remains ahead in the overall tally of victories in both men’s and women’s races. We at Oxford Today wish the women’s crew and the men’s every good luck on Saturday.

 The magnificent eight

Oxford’s women’s crew:

Bow: Maxie Scheske (Magdalen) — 66.6kg

2: Anastasia Chitty (Pembroke) — 69.6kg

3: Shelley Pearson (St Cross) — 70.0kg

4: Lauren Kedar (Exeter) — 75.4kg

5: Nadine Graedel Iberg (Lincoln) — 72.4kg

6: Emily Reynolds (Trinity) — 67.4kg

7: Maddy Badcott (Wadham) — 74.0kg

Stroke: Caryn Davies (Balliol) — 78.4kg

Cox: Jennifer Ehr (Pembroke) — 50.4kg

The crew’s total weight (including cox) is 624.2kg, compared to Cambridge’s 630.8kg.

Oxford’s men’s crew:

Bow: William Geffen (Keble) — 82.2kg

2: Thomas Swartz (Keble) — 76.6kg

3: Henry Goodier (Oriel) — 88.2kg

4: James O’Connor (LMH) — 83.4kg

5: James Cook (St Cross) — 83.8kg

6: Michael DiSanto (Trinity) — 90.8kg

7: Sam O’Connor (Christ Church) — 88.6kg

Stroke: Constantine Louloudis (Trinity) — 92.2kg

Cox: William Hakim (Univ) — 54.6kg

Total weight including cox is 740.4kg (Cambridge’s is 781.4kg).

The magnificent eight

River and boathouse images by Richard Lofthouse. Portrait of Caryn Davies from Rowing Blazers © Adrian Krajewski / Jack Carlson, reproduced with permission. Oxford women’s victory celebration and crew lineup from London weigh-in © The BNY Mellon Boat Race, reproduced with permission.


By Mary Bridson (D...

What a long way the Women's crew has come since I gained my Blue (rowing 3) in 1967! We were a bit of a ragtaggle crew - I certainly shouldn't have been in it, but there were very few women rowers at that time. We didn't even have a boat, but borrowed one from Corpus, I think. We raced that year on the Cam and lost. Good luck to this year's crew!

By Peter Tomlinson

Go for it! It will be a historic day, win or lose, but you will be going for the win!

(I was a cox in the autumn 1963 Junior Trials Eights - in those days there wasn't any funding, so sadly I could not go any further.)

By Erik Vahl Meyer

Well done Oxford. It was good news I received whilst eating breakfast here in Geelong, Australia. Special congratulations to the women's crew. 50 years since the inaugural Isis-Goldie race; I pray all the girls will witness the 50th anniversary of their race in 2065. See you at Henley?

By Richard Gowing

Well done Oxford - all three crews. We watched it all on TV - the coverage was good, but I feel they could have given more coverage to the Isis-Goldie race

By Eleanor Sharpston

Delighted for Oxford - but (actually) especially delighted for the women's crews (both Blue Boats and reserves) from both Oxford and Cambridge. You turned the much-publicised 'historic occasion' into what it should be, a proper all-out race that is the culmination of 6 months hard work and total commitment. In the process, you made it seem so natural that (finally) the women's race has moved onto the Tideway. Those of us who raced alternately on the Cam and the Isis and then fought to get the race moved to Henley (in the teeth of opposition - 'surely women can't race a whole 2000m?') are so proud and happy for you.

Eleanor (Leo) Sharpston
CUWBCII 1976 and 1977
OUWBC I 1978, 1979 and 1980
President OUWBC 1978/1979 and 1979/1980