UPDATE: A protestor's blog has claimed responsibility for swimming into the Thames to disrupt the race.
Business networking site LinkedIn reveals Trenton Oldfield’s anti-elitist credentials. An LSE graduate, Oldfield has been involved in urban renewable projects focusing on the Thames towpaths that surround today’s shocking incident. He has past form in river-based protest: council records reveal he planned to stage a ‘boat trip between Hammersmith and Chelsea to promote sustainable transport issues’.
Trenton Oldfield, a 35-year-old protester, has been identified as the rogue swimmer, and the blogpost quoted below is believed to have been written by him as well.
Speculation is rife regarding the identity of the rogue swimmer. A blogpost claims responsibility for the disruption, which it claims was a protest against elitism:
“THIS IS A PROTEST, AN ACT OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, A METHODOLOGY OF REFUSING AND RESISTANCE. THIS ACT HAS EMPLOYED GUERRILLA TACTICS. I AM SWIMMING INTO THE BOATS IN THE HOPE I CAN STOP THEM FROM COMPLETING THE RACE AND PROPOSING THE RETURN OF SURPRISE TACTICS.”
More as we find out.
Cambridge won the 158th boat race in a storm of interruption and clashes of oars. Nothing could have prepared them for what happened in today’s race.
A swimmer interrupted the race halfway through, only for the crews’ blades to clash on the restart. An Oxford blade snapped in half, giving Cambridge an easy row to the finish in one of the most extraordinary races ever.
Cambridge President David Nelson won the toss and chose the Surrey station, which has produced the lion’s share of wins in recent years. With Oxford pre-race 4/9 favourites, it was an early bonus for the Light Blues.
With 250,000 spectators lining the banks, the atmosphere was electric as the race began. Oxford made the strongest start, pulling out to a quarter of a length lead within the first minute. But Cambridge knew their Surrey station would have the advantage coming past Hammersmith and didn’t panic.
The crews level at Hammersmith Bridge before the stoppage
The Light Blues upped their stroke rate to 37 and pulled it back to lead by a third of a length as there was nearly a clash of blades going under Hammersmith Bridge. Coming past Chiswick Eyot the crews were level, when suddenly everything stopped.
Assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent had seen a protester swim out into the river, forcing the stoppage of the race for the first time since 2001. He narrowly missed hitting an Oxford blade at high-speed, which could have killed him, before being whisked away in a police boat, still smiling.
As confusion spread along the banks, the boats turned around and headed back to re-start the race from a point just before the interruption at Chiswick Eyot. The following flotilla’s wake had churned up the river, and there was a delay while the water settled down again.
It made for a completely different race. Both crews had been selected for a four-mile marathon and found themselves with a two mile sprint to the finish, but the choppy waters seemed to favour a Cambridge crew who were on average 7.9kg heavier per man.
When umpire John Garrett got the crews going again with a rolling start, there was still nothing to choose between the boats. The crews came closer and closer to each other, with the umpire warning the Oxford crew to keep their distance, as Cambridge held their line. But the boats came too close and the inevitable clash happened. It caused Oxford’s Wienhausen’s oar to snap and they were effectively reduced to seven men.
From then on the race was all but over, and Cambridge went on to win easily. Oxford cox Zoe De Toledo registered an appeal at the end of the race, but umpire Garrett said he was “comfortable with Cambridge’s position on the river”, laying all fault with the Oxford crew.
Cambridge crossing the finish line ahead of 7-man Oxford
Cambridge stood up in their boat to celebrate as they came under Chiswick Bridge, but the jubilations were quickly muted when the Oxford bow Alex Woods collapsed having crossed the finish line. Medics were called to administer oxygen and he was taken to Charing Cross hospital, but is said to be doing well.
Alex Woods collapsed in the Oxford boat after the race
After the race Cambridge’s Steve Dudek echoed the sentiments of all present at the finish line, saying “we hope he’s all right. Our thoughts are with him”. Light Blue coach Steve Trapmore said it was “not the ideal way to win, but we’re very proud of the guys”. Due to Woods’ collapse, the presentation was cancelled, despite Boris Johnson having turned up for it.
Cambridge President David Nelson felt that Cambridge had been rowing better than Oxford at the point of the clash, but the 158th Boat Race will forever be remembered for the drama that surrounded it.
In the reserves race, Cambridge’s Goldie also won the toss and chose Surrey. It was Goldie who made the best start, pulling out to a half-length lead. But by the milepost that had evaporated and Isis got a quarter of a length ahead. Goldie never recovered, and by the time the crews were approaching Chiswick, Isis had pulled out to three lengths, using the Middlesex bank to their advantage. A final margin of five lengths was the official verdict.
Photographs by Sonali Campion and Laura Pugh