REPORT: Achilles Athletics Tour
BETH SWORDS provides a full report and exclusive behind-the-scenes insight into the Achilles Athletics Tour of the Ivy League Universities.
The Easter Vacation saw the rival Oxford and Cambridge athletics teams put their differences aside.
They joined forces to unite against their equivalents from across the pond in the Achilles Athletics Tour of the Ivy League Universities held biennially since 1894. The teams visited Cornell, Penn State, Harvard and Yale over a two-week period.
The athletics tour culminates in an Oxford/Cambridge Vs Harvard/Yale match, where the confrontation two years ago left much to be desired on our part.
Returning to the US with no trophies to our name meant we had a lot to prove.
Our prospects looked hopeful with a strong alumni and student contingent headed up by Matthew Houlden and Nadine Prill. Lewis Lloyd of Pembroke, fresh from the Junior World Cross Country Championships, Hanna Tarver’s (Fitzwilliam) 5th placing at BUCS Indoors and Cambridge Hare and Hounds’ cross country team placing 4th overall at BUCS earlier this year all pointed to a potential turning of the tables at this year’s matches.
The match between the Achilles team against Penn State and Cornell came first. The final score was tipped towards Penn and Cornell. However, had it only been a match against Penn, the Oxbridge team would have annihilated them, beating them in almost every single event. Unfortunately, the Cornell team was stronger and dominated on the day.
Performances worthy of a mention were Emma Perkins who won both High Jump and Triple Jump – a solid start to the season for the former competitor at the European Team Championships. Matt Houlden, Cambridge President and of Homerton, earned a 2nd and 3rd in the long and triple respectively. Woman of the match went to Nadine Prill in the 100m and 200m having won the 100m against some stiff competition.
The Harvard/Yale Match, hosted by Harvard, was surprisingly closer. It came on the 16th April, the day after the Boston bombings. Following a minute of silence and the respective countries’ national anthems, the mood was set for some raw emotional competition.
A win by Hanna Tarver early on in the 800m boded well, crossing the line ahead by almost 2 seconds in a time of 2.09.80 that puts her 4th on the UK rankings this season. Unfortunately, the sprints and hurdles were tougher, with the women’s 100m being won in 11.98. A time that would easily put them second on the U20s national rankings. Alice Kaye, of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, finished in third despite running 12.53, which would put her 16th on the UK Under 20 rankings. Katherine Turner and Polly Keen did the light blues proud with second placings in the 1500m and 3000m Steeplechase respectively.
But the highlight of the Harvard/Yale match came with the 4x400m relays with a first and second in the men’s race and a win for the women.
George Gundle (of St John’s, Oxford, unfortunately) put in an excellent anchor leg to secure the team to victory. Tom Frith (again of St Anne’s, Oxford), after having stormed to a triumphant win in the 1500m earlier, proved his ability at shorter distances in holding off the Harvard team to secure second for the guests. This was followed up by a win in the men’s 4x100m relay, including on the team Cambridge Men’s Captain Ross Elsby. Unfortunately, this was not enough to edge a victory but such high calibre performances bode well for a tight varsity match in four weeks time.
As Lizzie Thompson, former student of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, aptly put, “Winning is always enjoyable but the shared experiences and united spirit between the Oxford and Cambridge crews made victory seem secondary”.
This is especially true when you consider ‘cross-pollination’ was the buzzword of the trip.
The two weeks were seen not as purely a competitive contest between six of the world’s best universities but as a cultural endeavour between Americans and the British, as well as between Oxford and Cambridge.
We came away from the trip with an in-depth knowledge of beer pong, flip cup and waffle-making as well as the belief that Oxfordians were surprisingly tolerable, if not, somewhat amicable.
Roger Bannister on the tour in 1949 summarised the whole experience nicely, “Apathy is less common than in England: in the USA, it is no crime to be enthusiastic. It has a gift for taking up outsiders and making them feel at home. In sport, Americans suddenly spring into life and beat their opponents with an off-hand smile.”
To an outsider reading this write-up, a distinct defeatist undertone of “winning isn’t everything” comes to mind. However, the women winning 5 out of 14 events and the men winning 6 out of 13 are actually quite impressive feats. When you take into consideration the fact that the Harvard indoor track rivals Britain’s best indoor facilities, Penn’s Franklin Field stadium sits the same number as our Olympic stadium and that the track teams meeting 6 days a week, without fail, the informal training setups in Oxford and Cambridge juggled with relentless degrees pay testament to the achievement. All the same, the heralded (if not, slightly adapted) phrase – GDBH&Y – remains.
2015. Two years. That is all.
In the meantime, the Achilles Team will have to disband in light of the approaching varsity match on May 18th, held at Wilberforce Road Track, Cambridge. Considering 26 of the 47 athletes taken on the Ivy League Tour were from Cambridge, the odds look promising. However, chickens and counting and all that…