Lancaster narrowly beat York in dramatic first division boat race clash


Ethan Attwood reports from the River Ouse on the first division rowing

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Image by Emily Warner

By Ethan Attwood

York and Lancaster appeared well matched across the five opening boat races. York won three out of five races, but finished tied at four points apiece as Lancaster took the pivotal Senior Men’s 1st VIII at the final gun.

The Roses titans began the day both hoping to build on recent successes, with Lancaster winning on points at Roses last year, but some recent wins motivating York. Senior Women’s 1st VIII Stroke and co-captain Naoise Coakley said before the start about the feeling in the boat: “Really excited, we’ve put in a lot of work, and the boats have had a lot of speed.” The team were looking to build on a full sweep achieved at Roses last year. On the significance of river position, Naoise said: “We want the railway side, but if we don’t [get it], I have full faith in our cox to steer us a really excellent course.”

River position was slated to play an outsized role in the day’s races, given the shortness of the course – only 1km, while races such as the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race come in at 6.8 – and the existence of only one major corner just before Scarborough rail bridge. Indeed, this appeared to be pivotal as the coin flips fell, with 4 out of 5 railway-side boats capturing wins.

The optimistic feeling among the Men’s crews was similar. Ishaan Parmer, who was not rowing today but usually rows at Bow in the Men’s Senior 2nd VIII, reported feeling optimistic based on recent progress made by the crew and wins for both Novice Men’s crews. “It’s our home river so we’re used to the conditions. Sun’s coming out so it’s looking good.”

Indeed it did look good for Ishaan’s crew, with the Senior Men’s 2nd VIII storming out to an opening win by half a length. The mood was jubilant as York started the day on the right foot. The next race, that of the Senior Women’s IV, saw Lancaster equalise by holding off a desperate late push from the York Women. While the loss was momentarily dispiriting for the home faithful, this race wasn’t worth any Roses points, maintaining York’s lead.

That lead was summarily extended by York’s Novice Women’s VIII. First the Men’s IV seemingly demolished a distant Lancaster crew, who apparently experienced a collision with the bank early on before the boats came into view from the finish. This meant that the race was registered as a draw, giving half a point to each University. The Novice Women’s VIII then surgically dispatched a strong Lancaster crew in a much more conventional tussle.

The final race of the first division saw the first of the day’s two heavyweight title fights, with the Senior Men’s 1st VIII boats squaring off before the corresponding women’s crews racing to cap off the second division this afternoon. York’s men saw a slim deficit at the railway bridge extended to a disappointing two lengths after a tense battle along the final straight.

Despite Lancaster's win, spirits along the Ouse remained high given York’s edge in wins. Senior Men’s 2nd VIII 4-seat oarsman, Ben Thorpe, said of their opening victory: “This is our first regatta-style race of the season, so we were extremely nervous, but didn’t let that get into our heads and achieved an extremely strong result after all our training all winter. The crowds and the adrenaline really helped as we rated at 38 (strokes per minute) while usually we’re lower than that.”

Ben’s crew was not the only one operating in fifth gear. Top crews will often aim to cruise at 30-35 strokes per minute, but a 1km race is effectively a sprint where adrenaline takes over and you barely have time to breathe.

The spirit of the home faithful will aim to propel York to further victories in the second division imminently.