Cambridge win boat race as ‘frustrated’ rowers stage protest in hard hats and hi-viz jackets to complain about lack of repairs to Hammersmith Bridge that forced contest to move to Ely
- Cambridge have won the 166th men’s Boat Race, their fourth win in last five events, on Sunday
- Cambridge also won Women’s Boat Race for the fourth time in a row, prevailing by less than one length
- The race was moved from its usual residence along the Thames to Ely in Cambridgeshire due to Covid
Cambridge have won the 166th men’s Boat Race, their fourth win in the last five events, as rowers have staged a protest over the lack of repairs to Hammersmith Bridge that forced the contest to change its traditional route.
Cambridge also won the Women’s Boat Race, claiming its fourth successive win over Oxford on Sunday, prevailing by less than a length in a unique year for the showdown between the two universities.
Moved away from its usual residence along the Thames to Ely in Cambridgeshire for the first time since the Second World War due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the race was a nip-and-tuck affair along the Great Ouse.
Cambridge celebrate winning the men’s boat race on Sunday. Cambridge won the 166th men’s Boat Race, their fourth win in the last five events
A group of rowers, including former British Olympians and Oxford and Cambridge boat race competitors, taking part in a demonstration in front of Hammersmith Bridge in west London over the government’s inability to agree a repair plan for the bridge after almost two years, on Sunday
The 134-year-old west London bridge has been closed to traffic since April 2019 when cracks appeared in its pedestals The protest is pictured above
Sarah Winckless, the first female to umpire the men’s race in the event’s 166-year history, was kept busy as on several occasions she warned Cambridge cox Charlie Marcus to alter his crew’s line.
Oxford were repeatedly warned by the umpire for encroaching on their rivals’ line but Cambridge held their nerve, establishing a slender lead after halfway which they never surrendered as they triumphed on Sunday afternoon.
Dylan Whitaker, the winning cox, was full of praise for his opposite number Costi Levy.
He said on BBC One: ‘Massive, massive props to Costi because she steered like an absolute champ. That was close but we knew what our plan was, we kept it calm and loose and it worked.’
Sarah Tisdall added: ‘Awesome race, massive congrats to Oxford. That’s the closest boat race the females have had. Awesome day for women’s sport and really proud of this team. It’s been awesome.’
The Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club team celebrate as they cross the finish line to win during The Gemini Boat Race on April 4
Cambridge rowers get out of the water after winning the traditional boat race between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in Ely
Sarah Portsmouth and Bronya Sykes of Cambridge celebrate victory after The Gemini Boat Race on April 4
It comes as ‘frustrated’ rowers staged a protest in hard hats and high-vis jackets on the River Thames today to express their frustration about a lack of action towards repairing Hammersmith Bridge.
The 134-year-old west London bridge has been closed to traffic since April 2019, when cracks appeared in its pedestals.
It then closed to pedestrian, cyclist and river traffic in August after a heatwave caused the faults to ‘significantly increase’.
On Sunday, the day of the annual University Boat Race, 12 boats of rowers wearing construction gear rowed from the traditional start of the race in Putney to the bridge.
Cambridge (right) lead Oxford as they compete in the 75th Women’s Boat Race on the River Great Ouse near Ely in Cambridgeshire
The Oxford (front) and Cambridge (back) crews on the water ahead of the 166th Men’s Boat Race between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in Ely, Britain
Challenges posed by the pandemic and the uncertainty over the safety of the bridge resulted in this year’s race being moved to Ely, Cambridgeshire.
Mark Lucani, 41, captain of the 165-year-old London Rowing Club, said the ongoing closure of the bridge was a ‘massive blow to everyone’.
He said: ‘Essentially, it was a mark of our frustration around that, coinciding with the Oxford and Cambridge race which is happening today but not on the championship course.
‘We had the message of ‘let’s get the work done on the bridge, stop politicking and take action’.
‘The bridge has been shut for almost a year now and no physical work has begun yet.’
A group of rowers, including former British Olympians and Oxford and Cambridge boat race competitors, taking part in a demonstration in front of Hammersmith Bridge in west London over the government’s inability to agree a repair plan for the bridge after almost two years
Jess Eddie, three-time British Olympic rower and medallist in the Rio Olympics, said: ‘The impact of the broken bridge on British rowing, other water sports and river users has been huge, confining hundreds of boats to a small section of the river’
He added: ‘Every user of the river has felt the negative impact.’
Jess Eddie, three-time British Olympic rower and medallist in the Rio Olympics, said: ‘The impact of the broken bridge on British rowing, other water sports and river users has been huge, confining hundreds of boats to a small section of the river.
‘A closed Hammersmith Bridge will stop a number of important river events and races that people train for year-round, some of which have been taking place for over 100 years.’
Julia Watkins, 52, a spokesperson for campaign group Hammersmith Bridge SOS, said the lack of action towards fixing the bridge left her feeling ‘absolutely despairing’.
Ms Watkins, who lives in north Barnes near the bridge, said a 10-minute walk to amenities on the other side of the bridge now takes up to 90 minutes.
She called for the Government to act swiftly, with central government to shoulder most of the cost as the bridge is ‘national infrastructure’.
Rowers take part in the demonstration on Sunday. Julia Watkins, 52, a spokesperson for campaign group Hammersmith Bridge SOS, said the lack of action towards fixing the bridge left her feeling ‘absolutely despairing’
Ms Watkins told PA: ‘Not only is a historic part of our nation’s history just lost as the Boat Race seems unlikely to happen at Hammersmith for years to come, there are thousands of ordinary people who are really suffering due to the Government’s inaction to fix a bridge.
‘It’s quite unbelievable that they cannot fix a bridge that is 200 metres long and is a vital transport link for Londoners.’
The Boat Race could have a new look this time next year, as plans to change the route to avoid the unsafe Hammersmith Bridge could see it run past London landmarks such as Big Ben with a million-strong crowd.
According to The Times, if given the go ahead, the new proposed route for the 2022 race would start in Westminster, beside Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and with the backdrop of Westminster Bridge and the London Eye.
The rowers would then head west towards Battersea Park and power station, passing Tate Britain art gallery on route.
The route would finish up at Putney Bridge and would be 5.4miles long, compared to the traditional 4.2mile stretch from Putney to Mortlake.
If agreed, the new course could also allow millions of people to attend the race, as shown at the Queen’s diamond jubilee which a million people were able to attend along the Thames.
The 133-year-old west London bridge was suddenly closed in August last year after cracks were discovered in the structure (pictured)
The race was cancelled last year due to coronavirus and the closure of the unsafe Hammersmith Bridge (pictured during the 2019 Boat Race) which boats, except emergency vessels, are not allowed to travel under
The new proposed route would see the racers row through central London, starting outside Big Ben and making their way down to Putney – the traditional starting point
The Port of London Authority has been discussing the plans with Boat Race organisers to secure the future of the much-loved annual tradition.
PLA’s Ryan Hall said: ‘We are very hopeful that the boat races will return to the Thames next year, if not at Hammersmith then on an alternative course, possibly ending at Putney or further upriver.
‘Initial discussions with the organisers are under way.
‘The week-long programme of events is an internationally important fixture in the Thames calendar and we are greatly looking forward to welcoming it back to the capital.’
‘We very much hope to return to the Tideway for the Boat Race 2022 but it is prudent for us to consider contingency plans should the issues with Hammersmith Bridge prevent us from using the historic championship course from Putney to Mortlake,’ a Boat Race spokesperson said.
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