11 lengths reminds me of the one sided contests during my formative years, normally with poor old Oxford trailing in far behind, exhausted and demoralised. The races were so often not proper contests in those days, and therefore can't have been much fun for the public lining the banks of the Tideway.
I suppose it's impossible to know how many spectators there were, or indeed how many there ever are. The BBC estimated 250,000 in London (plus of course countless millions on TV). My impression is that interest continues pretty unflagged, and that crowd figures if anything are increasing. I'm sure this is because the standard is higher with all the internationals on board, but it probably also reflects the fact that we've had so many close and dramatic races in recent years. Oxford's victory by just 1 foot in 2003 is one such example. The 2012 race was shaping up to be another classic when it was interrupted by that rather foolhardy swimmer - but that incident itself gave the event added interest. So let's hope we're not returning to the days of boring processions again.
And so to the clash. In brief, Oxford drew steadily away from Cambridge following an overlap near Harrod's Depository - well before Hammersmith and only about 5 minutes into the race - where the Light Blues' 2 (that's Cambridge) came into contact with the Dark Blues' 7. Unfortunately the Cambridge man (a large American, like most of his crewmates) came off worse; he caught a crab - i.e. his oar hit him with terrific force in the chest, knocking him backwards into the lap of bow - and he then missed about 6 strokes. The missed strokes are less important than the fact that catching the crab meant that the boat had to come to a dead halt in order to extract the oar, and Oxford just went clear.
Cambridge's 18 year old cox raised his arm in protest at the finish, but the umpire - rightly in my opinion - wasn't having any of it, as he'd warned Cambridge to stop boring in on Oxford only a few seconds before. The BBC commentator raised the question as to what might have happened if it had been Oxford in the wrong, claiming that Cambridge's protest might then have had some merit. Theoretically perhaps, but discussing the matter at home we could think of no time when a crew has been disqualified. Of greater interest to me was Cambridge's claim that 2's rigger was damaged in the clash and he couldn't pull properly afterwards. I must say his difficulty wasn't apparent, but perhaps that was just his skill. I suspect that there must be truth in the allegation as I don't think there was really 11 lengths difference between the crews. Having said that, Oxford had moved out to a half length lead just before the incident and were about to embark on the long Surrey bend in their favour. I note the Oxford President was fulsome in his condolences in the Oxford Mail, and he - an Olympic gold medal winner - was in the best position of all to see what occurred from his position of 5; after all his eyes would always be on his No. 7 from whom he takes his time.
Well, unlike Oxford, most of Cambridge return for another go next year. But I suspect the 2015 event will be overshadowed by the first ever women's boat race over the full Putney to Mortlake course. Up to now, the Varsity women have raced each other at Henley, far from world media, and have rowed less than half the distance.
And finally to the perennial (but rather hypothetical) question as to how would Oxford Brookes get on in the Boat Race, I can only quote the Brookes student newspaper when I was doing my teaching training there: they might struggle for a year or two, but then they'd give the old universities a very good run for their money...
Written by Kitt Villiers, OISE Oxford 2014.