CUBC in recent action against the Leander ClubJames Lee

We’re confident in how we’re doing but it’s tough to say. As we’re now into the final fifty days, it becomes a lot more real and I think the guys are gearing up for that. The guys are working hard and we’re definitely feeling OK for where we are but we know that there’s a long way to go.”

25 year-old MPhil student Dara Alizadeh is certainly not getting ahead of himself as he prepares to lead his crew in the Boat Race on the 7th April. Instead, the CUBC President exudes calmness, a calmness perhaps borne out of his vast experience in the sport: Alizadeh was in the 4 seat of the victorious 2018 Blue Boat, spent the 2017 season coaching rowing at Winchester College in the UK, and also rowed for Penn University before coming to the UK.

His role as President of CUBC though, one of the country’s oldest boat clubs, is certainly unique, and he describes his role as “to lead the squad and prepare them for the Boat race. Part of it is making sure that everyone is getting the most out of their experience but really the goal is to make sure that everyone is prepared enough so that the squad as a whole is able to put forward their best performance on the 7th April.”

As President, one of Alizadeh’s key roles is to select the crew to face Oxford on the big day. What, I wonder, is the secret to selecting a successful crew?

“It’s complicated to find the fastest combination of guys. We have different metrics that we can use - rowing machine scores - to compare guys individually but what makes a good crew isn’t just picking the strongest guys. It’s about picking a crew that develops a really good rhythm and just clicks and can work towards having a solid rhythm that is resilient - you’ve got to have some toughness in the boat. Luckily we have a squad of guys who bring that toughness and now it’s just about developing that resilient rhythm that will hold us through the race”

The most high-profile member of the squad is undoubtedly 47 year-old James Cracknell, double Olympic gold medallist and six-time World Rowing Championship gold medallist.

Alizadeh, however, is giving very little away as to whether he will select Cracknell for the Boat Race, and in doing so make Cracknell the oldest man ever to compete in the Boat Race:

“James is certainly in contention. He’s dealt with a bit of injury throughout the season but he’s got a lot of toughness and a lot of racing ability so it gives him a good shot.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alizadeh is more forthcoming on Cracknell’s impact on the squad:

“James is a tremendous presence on the team. His rowing background is pretty impressive and he brings experience to the squad. What’s nice with our club is that we have such a range of guys on the team - at the older end we have people of James’s age with a lot of experience and at the other end we have some undergrads who are in their first year of Uni. What’s nice is that all the guys, no matter how old they are and how experienced they are, they fit right in and we’ve able to form quite a close-knit group. James is a big part of that.”

As the conversation draws to a close, the conversation turns to some of the wider issues in the sport, and specifically rowing’s elitist image. The Oxford and Cambridge men’s eights at the 2018 Boat Race, for example, contained three times as many old Etonians as those who had gone through the British state education system.

How, then, I ask is CUBC actively trying to combat these issues?

Seemingly taken aback, Alizadeh pauses before admitting that: “With rowing, it’s an expensive sport, so there’s definitely a history of that [elitism].”

Nevertheless, Alizadeh is keen to highlight the “awesome” work undertaken by the Future Blues Initiative: in February 2018, the Boat Race Company launched the initiative, setting up a new year-round community outreach partnership in association with Fulham Reach Boat Club to improve access to rowing across the four London boroughs that the Boat Race Championship course passes through. Supported by Boat Race sponsors BNY Mellon and Newton Investment Management, the initiative targets 52 state schools, and an estimated 50,000 students in the area.


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Matthew Holland, CUBC cox: “They are immensely experienced – and that comes across in the way they race”

On top of this, Alizadeh stresses the accessibility of college rowing: ’One of the nice things about Cambridge is that the opportunity to row as a student is available at college - the fact that college rowing is so subsidised by colleges allows for Cambridge students to get involved irrespective of background. The more we can try to diversify where our athletes are coming from, the better”

Encouraging signs for the future in terms of widening access to Cambridge rowing, then. But for the next few weeks, Alizadeh is fully focussed on one goal: “winning the Boat Race on the 7th April”.

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