As always, the day of the Varsity Match began with its own set of unique formalities after the teams disembarked at Wimbledon Common. However, after the photos, the blues blazers and carnations were swapped for running kit and a nervous sense of anticipation, which would build over the following hours.The first race for the day was the 26th Old Blues’ Race. Despite some strong individual runs from past and present Oxford students, Cambridge’s superior numbers helped them take the match victory.
With most of the competitors in the Old Blues’ Race now lining the course, all attention turned to the 42nd Ladies’ Race. Many thought that the Oxford team was one of the strongest in years, but with four fresh faces all in their first year at Oxford, it remained to be seen how they would perform in a high stakes Varsity Match. However, there was no reason to fear, as the Oxford girls dominated the race from start to finish, with Floren Scrafton storming home over the final kilometres to take a comfortable victory, followed by Sophia Saller who finished in a well-deserved third place, and Charlotte Dannatt, who came in fourth – an amazing performance as a fresher. Kim Horner and Dani Chattenton rounded out the Oxford scoring, coming in 7th and 8th respectively, and Connie Hurton and Hannah Plaschkes completed a fantastic day for the Oxford women, both beating in the last Cambridge scorer to finish in 10th and 11th place respectively and seal a 23-34 victory for Oxford. There was jubilation and celebrations for the Oxford women before attention again returned to the course for the 127th Gentlemen’s Race.
The Gentlemen’s race is usually a battle of patience and attrition over the gruelling 7½ mile course, but Cambridge seemed to make a concerted effort to push the pace along after the water jump in the first few miles. However, any marginal early advantage they may have gained was neutralised when they needed some of Jamie Parkinson’s orienteering experience to make sure they continued on the right path. As the race wore on it became clear that it would be an incredibly tight race with just a couple of runners swapping position enough to hand the advantage to either team at any given point in the race. In the second half of the race, a series of groups emerged, and it became evident that whichever team could win more head-to-head battles within these groups would be the overall winners. The front four was one such group, consisting of Jamie Parkinson and Will Christofi from Oxford, and George Gathercole and 2016 Varsity winner Ollie Fox from Cambridge. The race was too close to call right into the last few hundred metres until Jamie put down a withering burst of speed to take the individual victory ahead of the two Cambridge runners. Christofi was next in, very close behind in 4th, and he was followed in by a pack of Oxford runners: Jack Millar, Dan Mulryan and Luke Metselaar who took 6th, 7th and 8th respectively. Olly Paulin from Oxford was locked in a key battle with Phil Crout for much of the match, but with some help from a stray tree root Paulin edged out the Cambridge runner to finish in a strong 11th in his first Blues match. Three Cambridge runners were next in, followed by Alex Bampton and Kirk Smith in 15th and 16th respectively. There was tension directly following the finish, as nobody was completely sure who’d won, but the Oxford Blues were ecstatic when the final result: Oxford 37 – Cambridge 41 was announced a few minutes later. This was especially exciting as it represented the first time since 2010 that both Oxford teams were victorious in the Blues Varsity Match. Great credit must also go to both Cambridge teams who ran very strongly on the day, contributing to one of the strongest days of Varsity competition in many years.
Overall, it was a great day for OUCCC, completing a marvellous term where Oxford also won the II’s – IV’s Varsity Match 4-1. None of this would’ve been possible without our fantastic and dedicated coach Kyle, who puts in hours of work every week, and our committee who put a significant amount of time and effort into organising the club so everything goes smoothly. Of course, the continuing support from Neptune has also been a driving factor in the club’s sustained success. It has helped us run the strength and conditioning sessions and travel to races among many other things necessary to keep the club healthy, and we would like to extend our thanks to Neptune.
-Alex Gruen, Balliol College