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Blues Varsity 2016: Report

Varsity is special. Described by many as impossible to fully understand until it has been experienced, the cross-country version of this ancient rivalry is no exception and the Blues races are the centrepiece of a day overflowing with history, tradition and nostalgia. From pre-race suits to complex spectating routes, photos with red flowers to pink-vest-wearing Bowers, and muddy water splashing to late night drunken flashing, there are countless quirks associated with the event. As Bethanie explained to this year’s freshers on the eve of their Varsity debuts, “If you have a confused question about tomorrow, the answer is probably tradition”.

We piled onto the coach at half past nine with the Blues and reserves suitably dressed up in outfit one of three for the day, and after a short delay the musical entertainment began. The ‘pump up playlist’ is a well-established coach ritual, designed to do as the name suggests and ensure everybody is suitably hyped on arrival. First up was Two Door Cinema Club, of course, followed by various other classics including a new favourite of LC’s featuring an Italian dessert. Other key track-listings were the PG rated “Fresher Prince Drop Bear”, an out-of-this-world performance of “Dan Fix You Mulryan”, a horrendously stereotypical reminder that Eoghan will in fact never run for the seconds, and one tune that has no doubt been stuck in everyone’s heads getting stronger since that very first rendition.

Amongst all of the karaoke excitement we made considerably faster progress towards our destination than we had done twelve months earlier, and in no time at all had left Archie’s bridge far behind us. French plaiting manoeuvres were conducted with their usual elegance, ribbons were distributed to runners and supporters alike, and Helene’s pink carnations were vetoed in favour of the, you guessed it, traditional red variety.

The first cross-country action of the day was the 25th Old Blues Race. Held alongside the Varsity races every year, this follows the women’s course and participants include recent Blues seeking revenge on old rivals, slightly less recent Blues who just can’t let go, and current Oxbridge students guest running because, well, why not? The former was the case for this year’s leading duo as Tom Frith (Oxford) took the win from Lewis Lloyd (Cambridge) and in doing so reversed the 2013 Men’s Blues result. A strong showing from Cambridge meant they took the overall victory.

At two o’clock Polly Keen, celebrating ten years since her individual victory as a fresher, gave the starting signal for the 41st Ladies’ Race and fourteen white vests set off in search of similar success. By the time they reached the windmill Sophia Saller, Bethanie Murray and Dani Chattenton looked comfortable running side by side in a fine display of dark blue dominance at the front of the race. Lizzie Apsley (Cambridge) ran well in a heavily outnumbered scenario to cling on for as long as possible, but by the time she reached the woods she had been decisively distanced. Feeling confident that they had secured an Oxford 1-2-3 but with no idea what was going on behind, all that was left for the leading trio to do was determine a finishing order. As they emerged from the woods and onto the memorial playing fields for the yet-to-be-named “Blues finish – who wants it?” run in to the line, it was Sophia who took the lead from Bethanie in a bid to prove that you do not need a Strava account to claim possibly the most desirable course record since “Jack Crabtree Sells Avon”. This bid was successful and Sophia, having been denied the honour by a course hiccup two years earlier, finally got her chance to break the tape on the Blues Cross-Country finishing line and add another tankard to her ever expanding collection that already included the full set of podium positions. Last year’s third place finisher Bethanie couldn’t quite match the triathlete’s surprise burst of speed on the home straight but nonetheless pulled out a well-deserved second place to round off a remarkable rise from resident camera-woman-chopper to OUCCC legend and queen of the Varsity tempo.

Sealing the podium clean sweep for good was another multisport and cross-country superstar Dani, having the race of her life when it mattered most to double the third place tankard count on the mantelpiece of 46. Helen Record showed maturity well beyond her cross-country years as she closed all the way to the line, claiming sixth place and more than making up for time lost messing around with a Lacrosse stick. With a late surge Captain Helene Greenwood caught one of the three light blues between herself and Helen to claim a brilliant ninth place and verify once and for all that there is no correlation between nail varnish and race day performance. Hannah Plaschkes finished strongly, in her trademark style, ahead of two Cambridge athletes and in eleventh place – a fantastic performance on home turf. Experienced Blue and model Oxford athlete Sarah McCuaig put in a gutsy run to close the seven-strong contingent in fourteenth place.

An incredible demonstration of talent and team work from the dark blue girls secured them a historic victory, the first for Oxford since 2011. General hysteria ensued in the finishing area as a mixture of disbelief, excitement, relief and a few happy tears spread across the faces of supporters and athletes alike. This was followed by a champagne shower for Kyle, congratulations from friends and family, lots of smiley photographs, and lots more general hysteria. Credit must go to the Cambridge septet who put up a fight on a course they have dominated in recent years, and will no doubt be back stronger in 2017.

Feet firmly back on the ground, it was time to turn attentions to the 126th Gentlemen’s Race. With William Christofi sitting out ahead of international duty, the Oxford boys had recruited Irish hero Eoghan, in the hope that his taste for obnoxiously bright hand-wear might carry him to similar heights as it had his fluorescent-fashion-sense twin and notable absentee from this year’s line-up, the 2015 champion, Mr. Mysterious Unterreiner himself. Back to the race and the boys stayed well bunched for the opening section of the gruelling twelve kilometre battle. By the first passing of the windmill Alex Howard, Jamie Parkinson, Luke Cotter, Eoghan Totten and Luuk Metselaar (dun dun duuuhhh) were all amongst the leading group, with Dan Mulryan, John Spill and Miles Weatherseed looking positive a little further back. Oliver Fox (Cambridge) then pushed on at the front and began to stretch out the field, taking Jamie with him as they rounded the top figure of eight loop, but eventually breaking away. Despite a well-timed, silver medal winning performance from Luke (no doubt inspired by race preview neglect), Cambridge took the victory and should be congratulated for a dominant display of tactics and strength.

Varsity is a special concept but it is also a cruel one. Every single one of the Oxford men gave their absolute all and it was a heart-breaking finale for such a close knit team. Hearts and souls were poured onto that course, but the harsh reality of Varsity is that with the ecstatic joy of victory comes the agonising disappointment of loss.

Life goes on and so does the Blues after-party. Alcohol was consumed, dinner was enjoyed and speeches were made (yes Helene, you did make your speech, and it was amazing). Luke declared his love for MacGregor and then fell asleep, missing out on the ultimate opportunity to find a nice girl. Helene and DBJ tore up the dancefloor, Miles proved his middle distance speed with a triumphant lap of the rugby fields, and Oxford, in the final tradition of the day, spectacularly lost the boat race. As we stood in the chilly midnight air (or downright arctic if you ask LC) waiting for the coach to collect us, and Dani got on a random bus in search of snow, the curtains were closed on another Michaelmas for OUCCC.

It has been a term to remember for Oxford University Cross-Country Club, and Kyle and the club committee deserve huge thanks for their ongoing support and dedication to a thriving community of athletes, team-mates and friends. See you at BUCS.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall

Blues Varsity 2016: Results

Congratulations to the OUCCC 2016 Women’s Blues team who won the Varsity Match on Wimbledon Common for the first time since 2011 – an incredible achievement and one which reflects the hard work, team spirit and belief that the girls have shown all term.

Sadly the Men’s Blues team was beaten by a stronger Cambridge octet, however huge credit should go to all eight of the Oxford boys who have worked equally hard and each gave absolutely everything they had to the race.

Reports and results from Thames Hare & Hounds, who hosted the event, can be found here. Report coming soon!

Blues Varsity 2016: Details

This Saturday sees the 126th Gentlemen’s and 41st Ladies’ University Cross-Country Races take place on Wimbledon Common (Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields).

The schedule for the day is:

  • 1.00 pm – 25th Old Blues Race Mob Match
  • 2.00 pm – 41st Ladies’ Race
  • 2.45 pm – 126th Gentlemen’s Race

Further details can be found here.

Varsity IInds – IVths 2016: Report

The annual Oxford vs. Cambridge IInds to IVths cross-country races. In other words, V-day round one. Often referred to as a ‘warm up’ or ‘understudy’ for the Blues Match, the event does an excellent job of proving this label incorrect. And rightly so, after all, the fundamentals are no different: dark blue vs light blue, two teams, one prize. Run. Other than a distinct lack of blazers, carnations and old men in Thames Hare & Hounds beanie hats reminiscing their university days, it has all the same anticipation, drama and confusing white vests as Wimbledon Common.

Priory Park, St. Neots, served as a first time venue this year, following council rejection of the permit application for Wandlebury Park. When asked to comment on the reasoning behind this, Mr Ellis explained that whilst he fully supports running conventions across the country, he could not make an exception for incompetent Oxbridge students for the third time in two years. Thus at half past ten on Saturday 26th November 2016 we found ourselves stood in a foggy field on the outskirts of Cambridge, watching a kids football match and wondering, as we often do, where on earth the Tabs had got to.

First thoughts were to pass the time by walking the course, however this turned out to be somewhat impractical on realisation that the course was yet to be marked out. Instead we had to make do with zip wiring across the children’s play park until our rivals decided to show up. It wouldn’t be a race report without mentioning the OUCCC tent, and it is pleasing to be able to report that it stood with considerably more grandeur than it had done two weeks earlier, probably because Aidan had crutches in his hands so couldn’t help. Eventually our competitors emerged from the blurry horizon and greeted us with race numbers and course markings.

Kick starting the action was the 30th Ladies’ Seconds race. With final team huddles and motivational speeches complete the girls lined up and waited for their cue to open the show. The light blues looked to be dominating for much of the first lap, but Rachel Skokowski and Emma De Camp held their own in the leading pack. Emma chased hard over the second half of the race and took a brilliant third place individually, only five seconds adrift of second. Tilly Woods came through for an impressive fifth place, demonstrating the huge progress she has made this term and staking her claim as one to watch for the future. Following Tilly home was Annika Halverson in sixth, and having fought hard to prevent Cambridge dominance at the start of the race, Rachel finished strongly in ninth. She was backed up by Rebecca Pullon, Kennagh Marsh and Anna Sharp. Cambridge took a deserved overall victory but the dark blue girls definitely put up a fight. With five newcomers all gaining valuable Varsity experience things are looking bright for the team’s progression over the next few years.

Next to toe the line were the athletes for the 69th Gentlemen’s Seconds. In contrast to the preceding race it was Oxford who looked to be controlling this one from the gun. Miles Chandler, Alex Gruen and Jed Marshall all positioned themselves nicely at the front, with back up in the form of Nikki Faulkner, Oliver Paulin and James Sewry just behind. As the three lap race unfolded it was Club Captain Miles who pushed on and before long he was alone at the head of the race. In fine style he extended this lead around the final lap and brought home a thoroughly deserved Varsity victory. Behind Miles the other Oxford boys were following his example and tearing the Cambridge team apart. The dark blues flooded into the finishing funnel as Alex and Jed battled hard to take third and fourth places respectively, with a stellar run from Niki bringing him across the line in sixth just ahead of Olly in seventh and James in eighth. Not to be outdone by their team mates further up the field Connor Haugen and Tom Fabes were right up amongst the action, finishing tenth and twelfth respectively and thus both beating multiple Cambridge scorers. Unsurprisingly this utterly dominant show meant an Oxford Victory for Miles and his merry men. Quote of the day goes to Capt. Chandler who, in the frenzied aftermath of tab-smashing let out a bewildered exclamation of, “I don’t think I’ve ever won a race before!”. Varsity is certainly not a bad place to break that trend, although one would imagine that some thorough secondary school results analysis is probably in order before that fact can be officially verified. No doubt namesake Mr. Weatherseed will be able to use his Power of 10, well, power, to help us out on this one.

The Men's II race gets underway

The Men’s II race gets underway.

Starting just five minutes after the seconds, the 62nd Gentlemen’s Thirds followed swiftly in their footsteps, but the race could not have panned out more differently. As the sixteen blue and white vests rounded the U-turn on lap one, you could be forgiven for thinking you were not watching a cross country race at all but in fact a Championship track final. This was no surprise given the number of middle distance specialists who had taken to the start line, and it made for highly entertaining spectating throughout. Would King Louis become King Snail for the second time in his illustrious Varsity cross-country career? Or would his equally tactical, sprint finish-favouring rivals catch him out? The short answers to both of those questions were yes, and thus no. Bailings showed up, for once, and got the job done. Unfortunately for our boys, the Tabs fielded an incredibly strong thirds team and claimed second to sixth place behind Louis. James Collins was next home for the dark blues in seventh, closely followed by Colum O’Leary. Glen Wright Colopy, Noah Hurton, Rowan Capper, Aaron Smith and Joel Spratt completed an Oxford team who did not give in under the light blue pressure and all put in great performances, but were ultimately beaten by a stronger Cambridge contingent.

Rounding off the day were the Mob (mob mob mob mob…) matches. First up, the ladies. With face paint, nail varnish and French plaits firmly in place (all the most crucial aspects of race prep, right Aidan?), the girls were ready to do business. Emily Hoogkamer did exactly that as she took the race in her beautiful stride, won it by the most convincing margin of the day, and ran herself into a Blues reserve place. Natalie Beadle and Georgie Bingham ensured we were well represented at the front end of the race, taking third and fourth places respectively. Despite narrowly losing out overall, the girls did Oxford proud and it was fantastic to see every single one of them, old and new members alike, getting stuck in and embracing the Varsity way of life – giving it your all no matter what.  The same sentiment can be applied to the men’s equivalent, where Harrison McCartney, Rahil Sachak-Patwa and Aitor Alvarez all took top ten finishes, but Cambridge claimed their fourth team victory of the day through considerably superior strength in numbers.

Overall a disappointing four-one loss for OUCCC, but as we departed tab-land and headed either home or onwards to dinner, drinking and dancing, the atmosphere was not one of a disheartened club. And nor should it have been. The camaraderie within teams, the unrelenting encouragement and positivity from spectators (despite some even risking their vocal chords), the belief and support from Kyle and the dedication displayed by every single athlete were what mattered. Upon arrival, our captains’ standout message had been simple – leave everything on the course. Anyone who turned to look back over the fields as we boarded the coaches for our departure would have seen that we had fulfilled these instructions to the max. We left behind not the desolate, spiritless playing fields that had greeted us, but a park forever imprinted with passion, emotion, bravery and team spirit. A park forever imprinted with Varsity.

Full results can be accessed here.

Laura Fenwick, Lady Margaret Hall

Women's Mob

Women’s Mob