Will Eights Week follow Torpids ? — Reason and sentiment argue over changeThis week, both on the banks of the Isis and farther afield, many will be wondering whether it is to be the last traditional Eights Week. When the new system of side-by-side racing was introduced in the Torpids last term it was agreed that there should be no change in Eights in 1960. A chance could be taken with Torpids which could not risked in Eights. The Torpids experiment was successful. Will Eights now follow the same way?
This question is affected by sentiment as well as by reason. Reason argues in favour of a change. But it would be wrong to dismiss lightly the sentiment which has made Eights Week, as well as the May Races at Cambridge, as traditional and ritual pageant of rowing. It will be a sad day when traditions are discounted. And if they are not permitted at Oxford, then where indeed?
The arguments in favour of a change are now fairly well understood. Bumping races, particularly on the short Oxford course, place an unhealthy emphasis on speed off the start, at the expense of stamina and stride. Crews rarely row at full pressure over the whole course, and experience neither the stimulus nor the distraction of racing alongside another crew. This places them at a disadvantage when racing elsewhere.
Brave spectacleAlthough some people argue otherwise, it is difficult to plead any intrinsic merit for bumping races. The system evolved, after all, merely because it seemed the only way in which a large number of crews could complete on a narrow and winding river. But over the years bumping races have entertained many people. They make a brave spectacle, and they have become part of the Oxford heritage. As such they deserve respect. If the new system is going to provide equal entertainment and fair racing, and is going to improve the standard of rowing, then it must come. But the change is not to be made lightly or without careful trial.
There will be another undercurrent in the Isis this week, which in the long run may be even more important than the form the racing is to take. It is akin to the old conundrum of whether the chicken came first, or the egg. Is successful university rowing dependent upon sound college rowing, or does good college rowing follow from successful university rowing?
On the other side of the Atlantic this problem would be simply defined as a clash between intra and extra mural rowing. At Oxford it looks less simple. For one thing, college rowing is the senior partner. But the partnership has been overtaken by events. It has become increasingly obvious that if university rowing is confined to a single private match in mid-winter, then it is confined to a rowing backwater, which must lead to progressive stagnation. The question is whether university rowing can achieve its metamorphosis without destroying the parent college rowing.
Answer in futureThis year Oxford have taken 10 men from the college summer eights. The standard of university rowing must surely benefit from continuing into the summer — indeed last year showed that this was so. But will the raising of the university standard compensate for the loss of some of the best oarsmen from the college crews?
In the short term college crews must be weakened. In the long term there are other considerations. A higher university standard will mean stiffer competition for the trial eights. Better university, trial eights, and Isis crews should be both an example and a challenge to college crews. There are signs that this process may already have begun, when quite junior crews are seen limbering up before going afloat, and will cover the home reach three or four times, where once a double journey was reckoned a long outing. The answer lies in the future, but perhaps the important thing, as one of the Oxford watermen remarked last week, is that the university oarsmen should not lose active interest in their college boat clubs, and that the partnership of university and college rowing should be maintained.
On foreign waterThere are no outstanding crews in Eights this year, and it is difficult to forecast results because some of the leading colleges have been practising on foreign waters. St. Edmund Hall, for example, who went head for the first time last year, have trained at Henley until the last moment. No one, however, except perhaps Christ Church, expect them to be displaced. Christ Church are not strong, but move well and have confidence. Merton are rough, but are thought to have some pace. Public opinion does not expect Magdalen to make bumps, but they are probably faster than they look. It seems unlikely that anyone will challenge these first four crews.
Brasenose should improve their position at the bottom of the first division. St. John's will find it harder to continue their recent spectacular rise, but Hertford should certainly regain places lost last year. Keble, once again one of the strongest crews on the river, should make at least their full quota of four bumps. Both Hertford and Oriel, incidentally, are using the new pattern short-bladed oars.
Eights Week opens with few Bumps — St. Edmund Hall have little troubleThere were unusually few bumps in the first night's racing in Eights Week at Oxford yesterday. In fact there were only nine bumps in the three top divisions, of which three were in the first, and three in the second division. This seemed to confirm opinion that the crews were very evenly matched. Certainly there were no very good crews but the general standard was at least up to the average of the past few years. Among the higher second boats in particular, racing was keen.
St. Edmund Hall had no trouble at all in holding their position at the head of the river, and were soon well outside their distance ahead of Christ Church. Christ Church, on the other hand, were pressed by Merton, who came within half a length at the gut, but could get no closer. Magdalen closed up a little on Merton off the start, but along the green bank they dropped back to about their distance. They were then well ahead of Queen's, but they may be in some danger tonight from Lincoln, who finished strongly yesterday to catch Queen's halfway up the barges.
Brasenose made sure of their bump on Worcester, and Hertford caught New College, but surprisingly could make no impression on St. John's when they raced again as sandwich boat at the bottom of the first division.
The greatest surprise of the evening, however, was that Keble failed to catch Pembroke, and so cannot reach the first division unless they can reach the sandwich boat position and make two bumps on Saturday. They were close to Pembroke in the gut, but then dropped back, while Pembroke finally rowed down University College.
St. Edmund Hall stay Head — Bumps still scarce at OxfordBumps were again very scarce at Oxford yesterday, and there were only four successful crews in the first two divisions, when Eights week was continued. Christ Church had a better row than on Wednesday and, although they made no impression on St. Edmund Hall, they had rather more margin of safety from Merton.
Magdalen also had a better row, and held their distance behind Merton, rowing right away from Lincoln, who looked to be in some danger of falling to Queen's, whom they had bumped on Wednesday. Coming out of the gut Queen's were well up, but they dropped back on the green bank.
Jesus were within a few feet of catching Balliol on the green bank, but just failed, and were themselves caught by Brasenose. Pembroke made another good bump, this time at the expense of New College, whose only consolation was the doubtful, and perhaps unique, distinction of having three crews in the lowest division, each one of which made a bump. It looks, too, as though New College must be fated to fall again tonight, for they are now placed immediately ahead of Keble.
Crews finding their Level — St. Catherine's II's distinctionThirty bumps were made on the third day of Eights Week at Oxford yesterday, bringing the total to 80. Only two bumps were made in the first division, where the crews seem to have found their level. As on Thursday, the first seven crews rowed through in unchanged order.
St. Edmund Hall easily kept their place at the head of the river, and, striking 37 coming out of the Gut, they were more than their distance ahead of Christ Church. In the fifth division St. Catherine's II had the unusual distinction of rising four places in one afternoon. First they overbumped Magdalen III and then, as sandwich boat, caught Keble III.
St. Edmund Hall not Extended — Henley will demand stronger finishAs expected, St. Edmund Hall had no difficulty in retaining their position at the head of the river in the Summer Eights, which finished at Oxford on Saturday. Even without their three Blues they were able to boat two senior and three junior trial caps, or four of the crew who went head last year. It is impossible to say how fast they were, since they were never extended. They will need a stronger finish if they are to do themselves justice at Henley, but their performance was impressive nevertheless.
Of the next three crews, who rowed over every night, Merton were the fastest and a final effort on Saturday brought them to within feet, if not inches, of catching Christ Church. Magdalen, missing two Blues and one senior trial cap, did well enough to hold their position, and in fact seemed faster than Christ Church. Trinity looked promising, but on Saturday they faded after the Gut and were caught at the New Cut by a strong but rough Brasenose, who were the only crew in the first division to make their four bumps.
Hertford were rather disappointing after their showing in practice, but they did finally establish themselves in the first division. Keble, like Magdalen, were lacking two Blues and a senior trial cap, but still called on four junior trial caps. They were one of the faster crews, but missed the boat, literally as well as metaphorically, by allowing Pembroke to escape on the first night. But for this they would have reached the sandwich position and might have finished with five bumps to their credit instead of three.
As already reported, bumps were scarce, and there were in fact fewer in the top division than in any year since Eights Week was reduced to four nights in 1954. This indicated an even standard, which is generally a favourable sign.
As to the two questions which opened Eights Week, the impression was that eights will continue as bumping races, at least until the alternative system introduced in Torpids has been more thoroughly tested. The morale of college crews was obviously high, but the absence of so many senior oarsmen did detract from the occasion. It might have helped if the university crew had been seen occasionally at Oxford, or of the spare men had been permitted to row for their colleges.
|St Edmund Hall|
|B:||E. A. S. Hutchinson (Tiffin )||11st 7lb|
|2:||S. C. Farmer (King's Canterbury)||11st 12lb|
|3:||B. T. C. Morris (Radley)||11st 7lb|
|4:||A. J. Goddard (Radley)||11st|
|5:||J. C. D. Sherratt (St. Edward's)||12st 8lb|
|6:||M. L. Pelham (St. Edward's)||12st 10lb|
|7:||D. S. Dormor (Oundle)||12st 1lb|
|S:||C. W. Holden (St. Edward's)||11st 1lb|
|C:||J. L. Toole (King's, Chester)||8st 13lb|
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