Old Blues: Ollie Cook

The Cambridge two man hit my brother’s blade: what am I going to do about it?

We were almost a length up approaching the kink of the long Surrey bend when our blades clashed with those of Cambridge. I felt this instinctive response and I started hauling –I put everything I had into the next twenty strokes.

Until the clash the rhythm was good, the crew was strong and the race was going to plan. But clashing blades is a throw of the dice; it might be fine, but there is always a chance something catastrophic could happen.

“Clashing blades is a throw of the dice; it might be fine, but there is always a chance something catastrophic could happen.”

After the clash, Sam Collier, our cox, called for a move to capitalise on the corner advantage; with little thought to managing my energy expenditure, I pulled as hard as I could. I wanted to get my brother, who was in front of me in the seven seat, out of harm’s way, and so too did the other guys sitting around me. But what followed was the longest twelve minutes of my life.

The Boat Race is a race like any other in the sense that it has a finish line, but the brutal reality of this duel between Cambridge and Oxford is that both crews want to knock the other one out before the finish post – the race can be won or lost long before its official end at Mortlake.

Our moment came before Hammersmith Bridge when the Cambridge cox steered slightly into us. In that moment, we all poured ourselves into the call that came from Sam. We edged maybe half a length, but it felt like it was enough.

We continued to press around the long Surrey bend. We opened up clear water and were able to move in front of Cambridge. By the time we came to the long straight it was clear both crews were exchanging pushes. At the Middlesex bend we had enough of a lead to take the inside line.

Twelve minutes after our all-out effort the finishing flag dropped with my crew two lengths in front. It was one heck of a race – we had made the most of our opportunity, but Cambridge had refused to relent and never gave up the whole way down the course. Every race is full of critical moments. Some, like our one before Hammersmith Bridge, can be decisive in forging the outcome. Others are more subtle but still influence the latter stages of the race. Our crew trusted one another, and this meant that as a collective unit we totally committed to seizing our moment. We were a crew full of big personalities. A crew of returning Olympians that had raced one another the previous summer, and a crew of past Boat Race winners and losers. What we shared was shed loads of belief, a belief that each of us would give everything to win come Boat Race day. It was born out of the world class coaching system that Sean Bowden leads for Oxford. And further founded on the knowledge that when you row for the Oxford University Boat Club you really are standing on the shoulders of the Dark Blue giants that have gone before.

2017 Won