So, it’s that moment of the year again, when families from across the world come together to feast and laugh and celebrate the resurrection of – the Boat Race…
Quoi? – you may well ask, as your faithful writer did to Sam Collier, cox for this year’s Oxford men’s crew in an interview with VERSA earlier this week. Sam, studying Engineering Science at New College, weighing 56.2 kg and measuring a height of 170 cm (according to the web) kept his answers short. Nevertheless, as all coxes know: length isn’t everything.
In order to avoid my catching a journalistic crab under the shadow of this ex. GB junior champion, we started in the shallow end: “Sam, why do you cox?” His response was enthused, and yet to the point. He explained how he started rowing several years ago, but soon discovered that he wasn’t built as a rower. Loving “the adrenaline”, however, he sought another way into the sport, he found this in coxing. This led on to a discussion about the technicalities of the race from the perspective of the cox. Sam explained that whilst the cox has to be aware of everything in the race, constantly relaying info back to the team (they are, after all, rowing backwards) his main concerns are their position in the river, and the stream direction. Essentially, not crashing.
Of course, four years ago, the boats nearly did crash into a protestor claiming that the race was elitist. On asking Sam about this, his response was fiery. He explained how, from his point of view, the race stands for “the pinnacle of amateur rowing, and possibly of amateur sport as a whole”; that the race is less about the universities, and more about “competitive sport it its noblest and most brutal form.”
Heart pounding, theme to ‘Chariots of Fire’ racing through my mind, I asked another tentative question: “What do you think about the race being on Easter Sunday?” Again, all oars out, Sam took no prisoners. He argued, given the six months of gruelling training – or diet, in his case – early mornings and discipline that “The timing is pretty unimportant”. Verging on tears, I nodded my head profusely. Indeed rather than viewing the date as a negative, he urged spectators to see it as an added opportunity, bringing families together, and providing a fun afternoon outing.
“But surely with all the pressure, it won’t be fun for you – are you scared?” I asked, naively. Sam’s response was blunt: “No. As soon as you’re on the water, you have a job to do. You just have to get on and perform to the best of your ability.” In other words, it’s like an essay crisis, only in the middle of the Thames, and with the world press chasing behind you in a motorboat. Easy…
We wrapped up with a classic: “How do you intend to celebrate afterwards? (Given that we are, of course, going to win).” Answer: “I am going to read a book and get an early night”. Whilst I was slightly disappointed by this, expecting some sort of boozy Easter egg hunt, I was not surprised.