2016 Varsity Athletics: Preview

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On 7 May, Oxford’s historic Iffley Road athletics track will host the 142nd Gentlemen’s and 41st Ladies’ Athletics Varsity Matches. Each of the 20 events (19 in the Ladies’ Match) will be fiercely contested by two athletes from Oxford andCambridge, in what can lead to fascinating tactical battles on the track and in the field. The first event of the day will commence at 11:30 am with free entry for all, and there shall be a Pimm’s bar at the track.

The men, hoping to bounce back from defeat last year, will look to maintain their strong record at home from recent years, having only lost twice at Iffley since 1988. They shall be led by second-year Louis Rawlings, whose glittering athletics CV contains multiple French caps at 800m. Rawlings will also line up against Cambridge President James Brooks in the 400m, in what looks set to be an intriguing battle, especially given that all of Oxford’s 2014 BUCS 4×400m silver medal winning quartet have graduated. Further international experience can be drawn on in the Oxford ranks by pole vaulter Rowan May, who will look this year to break the long-standing match record. Former England international and current Cambridge Captain Tom Parker will be leading his team from the front in the heavy throws, but shall be faced by stiff opposition from the Oxford throwers, notably defending javelin champion Arran Davis and counterpart David Korczynski.

In the sprints, Isaac Kitchen-Smith returns with a vengeance, intent on securing his first Varsity victories, having been beaten in a photo finish in 2015. After losing former Captain Sam Trigg to an athletics scholarship in New Mexico, Rhodes Scholar Carl Britto more than makes up for this in the long and triple jump, and he will hope to replicate the form that saw him rank as second junior in India. The distance squad will also be hoping to inflict further damage after securing a whitewash in the cross-country Varsity Matches. Such is the strength of the competition between the distance runners that, at the point of writing, it is still virtually impossible to know who will be competing in which events. That being said, one can be sure that William Christofi, having led the team for much of the cross-country season, shall be targeting victory in the mile or 5000m.

Sam Rawlinson will likewise be looking to overturn a Cambridge victory from last year in the women’s match and close the overall series deficit, as she leads from the front in the short sprints and pole vault, an event in which she has already crushed her PB this year. Her fellow vaulter Silvia Amabilino will be looking for a win in the event after a strong indoor season. Fresher Katie Hannawin will join Rawlinson in the short sprints, having already picked up the Full Blue standard in both the 100m and 200m in her first competition of the season.

They will be backed up by a strong all-round ladies team. Anna Niedbala will hope to pick up victories in the discus and hammer after already recording Full Blue performances in both. Katie Holder will look to build on her Full Blue distance from FEAR to pick up a win in the shot put, while Bella Coutts is aiming to repeat her Freshers’ Varsity Match dominance in the javelin. Several cross-country Blues from last December will lead the distance squad. In particular, Bethanie Murray, ex-cross-country Captain, and Dani Chattenton, will look to learn from their experiences last year in the 5000m and 2000m Steeplechase, respectively.

Despite this talented Oxford team, the fact that both matches will be closely contested only attests to the current quality of Oxbridge athletics. Both matches look certain to come down to the deciding relays at the end of the day, and OUAC President Hugh Baker is keen for large crowds to roar Oxford athletes over the victory line, adding that early season results promise big things.

Alex Howard, 2014-15 OUCCC Captain, Christ Church

This preview can be accessed as a Word document here.