Christ Church II colliding with St. Edmund Hall II in Division V of the Torpids at Oxford yesterday. At this point bumps were not allowed and Christ Church, whose bow had got caught up in St. Edmund Hall's rudder and forced them into Long Bridges, were relegated to the bottom of the division. This was the one untoward incident in an experiment otherwise highly successful.
Staggered start may end bumping races — Oxford boat captains approve new proposal
From our Rowing Correspondent
A new proposal approved by a meeting of captains of college boat clubs at Oxford could mean the end of all University bumping races, with far-reaching effects on the standard of rowing. Some would certainly regret such a change, but the experiment seems well worth trying.
Briefly, the proposal is that crews shall start in divisions, or groups of six, from the bottom of the Isis course, from lines fixed alternately on sides of the river. The gap between boats will allow a length of clear water between any two boats on the same side of the river. The crews will start together, each endeavouring to pass the boats ahead. There will be two lanes as far as the Gut, but three lanes from the Long Bridges to the finish. The order of finishing will decide the order of starting for the next day, and the crew finishing head of each division will automatically change places with the crew at the bottom of the division ahead.
Fairly detailed rules will be necessary, particularly as to the taking of stations, and the negotiation of the Gut, and it should be emphasized that all that has happened so far is that the college captains have agreed in principle to the experiment being made in the Torpid races next term, if the committee consider it practicable after carrying out trials at the end of this term.
Whatever one feels about bumping races, it must be admitted that this is an original and imaginative alternative. Some,visualizing the shambles which could occur when six determined crews arrive, close on each other's heels, in the Gut, may think it is too imaginative. It will certainly call for good coxing, good umpiring, and a great deal of good will.
Bumping races started at Oxford in 1815, by accident rather than by design. Crews returning from an evening's entertainment at the King's Arms, at Sandford, found it amusing to race home from Iffley Lock. The boats started in the lock, each pushing off in turn and endeavouring to catch the boat in front. From this it was a short step to organized races, with crews starting from stations marked on the bank above the lock.
That this form of racing has not given way to the more normal method of rowing side by side probably as two main causes. In the first place, bumping races meet the domestic demand of university rowing — to provide racing in a short space of time for a large number of eights. Until the relatively recent innovation of the Head of the River race there was no obvious alternative; and the Head of the River race, though useful in its proper place, lacks the glamour and excitement of either side by side or bumping races, and could hardly be repeated on several consecutive days.
The second factor in the survival of bumping races has been the tortuous and narrow river, which has been considered impracticable for racing side by side, thought it is, in fact, so used for local regattas. To these two causes should be added a third, which has perhaps grown to be the most potent of all — the British veneration for tradition.
Since bumping races fulfil the obvious requirement of accommodating a number of crews and providing and entertaining spectacle, one may reasonably ask why anyone should wish to do away with them. The answer will not be convincing to all, for some will always regard what is traditional as good, and what is new as, to say the least, suspect. But it is convincing to those who have at heart the interests of university rowing in its wider sphere, and it is apparently convincing to the present generation of oarsmen at the University.
In the early days of bumping races there was virtually no competitive rowing outside the universities. Henley, when it found its feet, protected the college crews by providing them with closed events, in which they could compete on equal terms with each other. But more recently, and particularly since 1946, college crews and, more recently still, university crews, have competed more and more in open events. They then find themselves at a disadvantage in lacking experience of rowing side by side.
Furthermore it has become increasingly obvious that bumping races are not in the interests of good rowing. A distinction should be drawn here between Oxford and Cambridge, for the longer course of the Cam discourages crews from pinning their hopes on a wild dash from the start, with no heed of what happens later. At Oxford, the leading crews in each division start only a minute from the Gut, and take only five minutes to cover the whole course. Great speed off the start therefore pays excessive dividends, and stamina and stride are often disregarded.
For these reasons there have been agitations in recent years to find an alternative to bumping races, and the present proposal though still in embryonic form, is the answer of those now at the University to a difficult problem. As such they deserve consideration and sympathy.
Passing and bumping combined in new form of racing
From our Rowing Correspondent
A captains' meeting of the O.U.B.C. has accepted the recommendations of the committee set up to advise on an alternative form of racing for the Torpids this term. The new races will be held from February 17 to 20.
In the light of experiments carried out last term, the committee recommend a system which differs somewhat from that suggested in the autumn, which was the subject of an article in The Times on October 21. The new system, under the not inappropriate name of the Hilary Dodgems, is a compromise between bumping and side by side racing.
Divisions of six
The crews will start below Haystacks corner, in divisions of six, from bung lines on the towpath bank, spaced to allow three-quarters of a length of clear water between boats. From the start the odd-numbered crews will take the Oxfordshire station and the even numbers the Berkshire (towpath) station. Immediately after the start, therefore, the crews will be in two columns, with two lengths and a half of clear water between crews in the same column.
Until the crews have negotiated the gut, and cleared the raft of Tim's boathouse at the bottom of the green bank, they will remain on two stations. So far they are debarred from making bumps, but will be free to pass the crews on the opposite station. Crew No.2 could therefore emerge from the gut ahead of crew No. 1, and so on.
Above Tim's raft there will be three stations all the way to the finish, and the rules lay down which station each crew shall take. From this point onwards it becomes possible to make a bump on the crew immediately ahead on the same station. It also remains possible, of course, to row past a crew on either of the other two stations.
When a bump is made, the crew who have been bumped will continue to race on to the finish, and are still able to pass crews on the other stations. If they succeed in doing so, their finishing place will be above any crews they passed, but behind the crew who bumped them. The crew making a bump will stop rowing, unless it is necessary to row on to avoid hampering crews behind.
The automatic ladder originally proposed, by which the crew finishing head of each division were automatically to change places with the crew finishing last in the next division, has been abandoned. Instead, the crew finishing head of each division will move up to the tail of the next division, on the following night, to start behind the crew which finished last in that division.
It will be seen that the first division will therefore increase by one crew on the second, third and final nights. Subsequent divisions will remain at six, sending one crew up and receiving one crew from below each day. The bottom division, however, will decrease by one crew each day.
This, of course, is only a superficial description of what is to be a complicated procedure with, necessarily, a detailed code of rules. One hopes that it will be easier to understand when seen in practice.
Have show ingenuity
Many will doubt the practicability of carrying out such an involved form of racing until they have seen it in action. But at least they will agree that the organizers have shown great ingenuity. The reasons for wanting to get rid of bumping races were discussed last October. The new system, if it works, will meet most of the objections to the usual bumping races.
It is true that some crews may make bumps and therefore will not have to cover the full distance. But they will have to cover at least half the course before so doing, and to catch a crew which started several places ahead. It seems probable that most crews will have to row the full distance and, bump or no bump, all will certainly have the experience of racing with a crew alongside.
Torpids take on new shape — middle station crews at disadvantage
The Torpids experiment, with crews gaining promotion by overtaking as well as by bumping, will be begun at Oxford to-day. Each division will have six crews and from Haystacks corner to the gut they will race in two lanes, even numbers on the towpath side and odd number on the other. From the gut to the finish the two lanes will divide into three, the second and sixth boats being on the towpath side, the first and fourth in the middle and the third and fifth on the Oxfordshire station. The finishing order of one day will decide the starting order of the next.
After each day's racing the crew that heads the second divsion will automatically join the first on the following day, bring the total in that divsion to nine on the final day. The same system of promotion will be applied in the lower divisions except that they will remain constant at six crews. The final divsion, however, having now two crews, will be absorbed into division VII on the third day.
Following the snow and rain of the weekend, floodwater is running strongly again and this must have a considerable bearing on the results. Crews in the middle station are likely to be slowed by as much as 30 seconds and it looks as if the second and sixth boats on the towpath station will have the easiest going.
Balliol, who start head of the river, are not particularly fast and it is unfortunate for them that they will be in the midlle lane to-day. St. Edmund Hall, in second place, are one of the better crews and, on the towpath station, should have no difficulty in going to the top. The second division has three of the better crews crews in St. John's, Oriel and Hertford; University should do well in divsion III while in division IV, Keble are probably one of the fastest boats on the river.
Torpids off to fine start — New style racing makes its mark
From our Rowing Correspondent
To see the three leading crews in the first division of Torpids racing side by side up the barges must have been most gratifying to those who had planned the new style races, which were started at Oxford yesterday. Under the old system it would certainly have taken two nights' racing to place these crews in their order of merit. Yesterday it seemed to have been achieved in one step, though it may be, of course, that Christ Church will pass St. Edmund Hall to-night.
It would scarcely be fair to criticize, or wise to praise unreservedly, after only one night's racing. But the severest critic would have to admit that the start was auspicious, and that the system obviously was practicable. That there can be improvements is not to be doubted. For one thing, the small divisions of six crews were a little disappointing to spectators.
No doubt it was prudent to keep the divisions small, but practically all the crews negotiated the gut, and moved into their proper stations with no difficulty at all, and it looked as though larger divisions would have been quite manageable. Larger divisions, of course, would not only improve the spectacle but would also get the racing through in shorter time.
The first impression of the racing was that it was extremely difficult to make bumps, and none too easy to overtake. But there were, in fact, 15 changes of position among the 47 crews. Though fewer than would be expected on the first night of conventional Torpids, this seemed to show that plenty of action was possible. Perhaps shorter starting intervals between boats might make for greater excitement.
Apart from the race for the headship the first division was uneventful. In the second division Lincoln gained one of the only two bumps, catching New College on the green bank. The only other bump was in the fifth division, when St. John's II caught Queen's II near the new cut.
Both these bumps occurred on the Oxfordshire station, between the third and fifth boats in the division. This happens to be the only case in which the allocation of stations brings two crews together with only two starting places separating them. In theory, therefore, fifth position in a division is the easiest situation from which to score a bump.
Except for minor clashes there was only one serious failure to understand or comply with the rather complicated rules. In division five Christ Church II closed rapidly on St. Edmund Hall II and bumped them going into the gut — no bumps being permitted before the crews split into three stations on the green bank.
As luck would have it the bows of the Christ Church boat became entangled in St. Edmund Hall's rudder lines, and the Hall boat was pushed right off the course into the bay by Long Bridges. Although they subsequently rowed on they were, of course, left far behind, but the umpire's decision permitted them to hold their starting position, while Christ Church were relegated to the bottom of the division. Apart from this incident the racing went remarkably smoothly throughout the afternoon.
St. Edmund Hall soon deposed — Christ Church seize chance in Torpids
A complete change of wind, which now blew against the stream, made conditions difficult for the second day of the new Torpids at Oxford. The Berkshire [towpath] station had some protection from the wind and rough water, and crews on that station took full advantage of it to improve their places.
The most important of these were Christ Church, who had a great race with St. Edmund Hall [centre station], and leading by a quarter of a length at the finish, went head of the river. St. Edmund Hall went back to second place, the position from which they had risen on Wednesday. Other crews on the Berkshire station who improved their positions were St. John's, Lincoln, Merton, Brasenose, St. Peter's Hall II, Keble II, and Worcester II. Keble II had a triumphant journey as, starting sixth in division six, they finished in third place.
There was a considerable muddle in division five. St. John's II passed St. Edmund Hall II at the top of the Green Bank, and at the same moment Oriel II bumped St. Edmund Hall II. The two boats slewed across the river, and immediately Christ Church II bumped Queen's II.
After the race Queen's claimed that they had been balked by Oriel, and, after much excuse and much argument, the chief umpire decided that the whole division, with the exception of St. John's II, whose rise was undisputed, would re-row to-day at 1.30.
Torpids flaw confirmed — Berkshire station an advantage
On the third day of the Torpids at Oxford, Christ Church yesterday held their place at the head of the river, but it did not seem that St. Edmund Hall were trying seriously to displace them. This may have been sound tactics, because to-day, for their final effort, St. Edmund Hall will again be on the Berkshire station. If St. Edmund Hall had gone head yesterday, Christ Church would have had that important station to-day.
Generally the Torpids experiment is proving most successful, though there is no doubt that crews rowing on the Berkshire station have an enormous advantage. This was proved again yesterday. Except in one case, all the overtaking was done on that station.
The re-row in division five which began yesterday's racing proved to be a repetition of Thursday's racing. Oriel II again bumped St. Edmund Hall II and Christ Church II again bumped Queen's II. But becase of a foul, St. Edmund Hall were relegated to the bottom of that division before they raced again yesterday.
In divison three there was again an unfortunate incident when St. Peter's Hall, coming out of their proper station, balked Brasenose, who were trying to pass them. At the finish Brasenose had failed to pass, and the umpires ruled that St. Peter's Hall were at fault. In accordance with the new rules, St. Peter's Hall were relegated to the bottom of the division.
After the last race the chief umpire, Mr. P. Barton of Magdalen, said it had been decided to alter the position of the buoy at the top of the Gut. This should have the effect of reducing the advantage which undoubtedly has existed on the Berkshire station. If it does have that effect St. Edmund Hall may regret that they did not give Christ Church a harder race yesterday.
In completely calm conditions there might be little to choose between the three stations, but during this week, with the strong wind blowing off the Berkshire bank, crews which from the Gut to the finish have had some protection have progressed in a way which cannot be written off as coincidence.
An analysis of yesterday's racing shows the success of Berkshire station boats. In division one St. John's and Lincoln went up; in division two University passed Hertford; Pembroke and Keble each gained a place. Division four saw St. John's [II] going up. In the fifth division it was Lincoln II and University II. In divisions six and seven it was the same story with the two crews on the Berkshire station easily going to the front. It will certainly be interesting to see whether the moving of the buoy will have the desired levelling efect.
New Torpids move may spread — Benefits apply to Eights week
From our Rowing Correspondent
The successful conclusion of the Torpid races at Oxford should not pass without tribute to those primarily responsible for evolving the new method of racing. A great deal of work was done last term and this, both in working out and trying out the new system, and final success was very much a communal affair. But it would be fair to say that the Rev. E. J. S. Miller of Balliol, was the prime mover, and Mr. M. P. S. Barton, of Magdalen, the prime organizer, since he was also the chief umpire. Posterity may say that these two men have done as much for Oxford rowing as many more illustrious coaches and oarsmen.
The question now, of course, is what will happen next, and, in particular, whether the new system will be applied to Eights. It may be thought precipitate to attempt this next term. But the benefits of the new system are so obvious that the advisability of introducing it for Eights Week must be seriously considered, if not this year then certainly next.
Since there is always opposition to progress — or perhaps it would be more objective to call it change — voices will certainly be raised in defence of the traditional Eights Week bumping races. High on the list of arguments against the new bumping and overtaking system will be the unfairness of the stations, and, specifically, the advantage of the Berkshire over the centre station, which was clearly demonstrated last week. Probably this would be less serious in June, and it might be further reduced when experience has shown where best to place the buoys. But there will certainly be some unfairness.
Taken for granted
Bumping races have been with us so long that their unfairnesses are now taken for granted, and, of course, they are not so obviously demonstrated, because the crews are not rowing side by side. Before condemning the unfairness of the stations on the new system, it is worth remembering the vital importance of starting position in normal bumping races. How often is a crew robbed of a bump because there is a slow crew two places ahead, or balked because it cannot quite catch the crew ahead, while that crew in turn cannot quite catch the next crew? On most rivers it is difficult to find entirely fair courses. But it would indeed be rash to say that the new Torpid races cannot be made at least as fair as the traditional bumping races which they have replaced this year.
St. Edmund Hall's tactics in delaying their challenge to Christ Church at the head of the river till the last day were fully justified. Rowing on the Berkshire station St. Edmund Hall were their distance behind Christ Church coming out of the Gut, but along the Green Bank they began to close the gap. At the University Boat House they were just overlapping and rowing better, they were nearly level at the New Cut, to draw away and win by a length. If St. Edmund Hall had gone Head on Friday and given Christ Church the chance to challenge for the Berkshire station on Saturday things might have been different.
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