â€œThey are sinking! Cambridge are sinking!â€
by Myriam Goudet on 5 May 2016
“They are sinking! Cambridge are sinking!”
These few words sound terrible and a little dramatic. We could say that they alone summarise our Boat Race experience. However, it was so much more than that …
My name is Myriam Goudet, I am French and a graduate student at Lucy Cavendish College where I am doing an M.Phil in Plant Sciences. With this post I will share my incredible experiences in the Women’s Cancer Research Boat Race 2016 in London on 27 March 2016.
For the second consecutive year, the women's race took place on the same day and on the same stretch of the River Thames as the men’s. I could not have been happier or more honoured to take part to this event. I have been rower for the last 13 years of my life. I have represented France and I still remember taking my first stroke with a Cambridge oar; it was as if it was my first stroke with my national blades. I felt incredibly proud, like I was dreaming.
We moved to London ten days before the race and stayed in a wonderful house in Wimbledon just 15 minutes from Putney. A very nice family who used to be Cambridge rowers (and who made yummy flapjacks!) hosted us. The conditions in the days leading up to the race were excellent! The sun was out most of the time and the temperature ideal. Far from what we had on race day. The atmosphere was amazing and we made incredible progresses over the final few days. The Boat Race week is something unique, all the media and attention people place on the Boat Race was much more than I expected. I would say it is more than for a rowing World Championship – I enjoyed every second.
However, Mother Nature decided to bring us a challenge. The forecast for race day was terrible. The day before was an omen of what was to come, as we rowed in heavy rain and high winds. However, despite the conditions and rough water, we had good outings that day and felt absolutely ready!
On race day after a pre-paddle, we came home and got ready. Everything is perfectly timed in order to match the BBC coverage. The toss took place two hours before the race and this is where our problems began. The toss determines which stations on the river each boat will start on. The Middlesex Station gives a slight early advantage, whereas the Surrey Station gives a larger advantage later on. On a normal day it really does not matter, but on a challenging day the Surrey Station is clearly advantageous because it is more protected from the wind. The strategy was thus to ask for the Surrey Station but … we lost the toss. However, at this point conditions were not so bad, we had practised the Middlesex Station and felt this result would affect us at all.
Our warm-up went well and we were ready at the start perfectly on time – despite the strong gusts. We knew we had an amazing opportunity ahead. We had an extraordinary combination of experienced and young people in our crew and the winter races had been promising. I was very focused on what I had to do, matching Hannah in front of me and supporting Zara from the six seat. I remember the helicopters flying above our heads and the crowd ready to cheer once the flag went down.
We had a good start, not our best, but good enough to put us a few centimetres ahead of Oxford and we gradually shifted into our rhythm. Oxford used the next few minutes to do a massive push and took the lead by three quarters of a length. We stayed calm and in contact with them waiting for Rosemary’s call in order to move back in. The call came just before Hammersmith Bridge after around 7-8 minutes of the race. We caught Oxford again while we were on the outside of the bend. However, we started to face heavy gusts and a strong head wind. In the middle of the river we were much more exposed to these awful conditions. We managed to stay united, focused on what we had to do in the next few minutes even if balancing the boat became increasingly challenging.
However, conditions worsened and huge waves started coming over our riggers and the pumps were working overtime. The boat was closer to the water but the worst was ahead: after Chiswick Steps we faced walls of water coming over our heads and exploding down our backs. At this point, the aim was not to win the race but just to keep going. As long as we could row, there was absolutely no reason to stop. Under Barnes Bridge we were under the water. We could not hear Rosemary anymore because the speakers were completely submerged.
The umpire asked us if we wanted to be rescued. I remember that the wind was so strong I did not hear him and we just carried on. After the last bend, the river was almost flat again and the pumps managed to take over. The verdict at the finish line was 24 lengths … to Oxford.
A month later, I still do not know what to think. We lost and I feel very frustrated about it. We put so much into this year and I feel that we did not end it properly. The result did not reflect our real potential. However, at the same time, we gave everything we had, collectively, mentally and physically. I am really proud of my team mates. They have been amazing partners, women and are true friends. The Boat Race is a unique experience and with three more years of my PhD to come, I hope to turn this defeat into a win next year!