Jeremy Dempsey (centre) stood out for Cambridge in the Men's Blues 1500mOliver Rhodes

Oxford came to the Wilberforce Road track on Saturday morning as clear favourites to win the 145th Varsity Athletics match, with season victories over Cambridge already under the belts of both the Men’s and Women’s teams, and with command of 24 Blues standard performers against Cambridge’s 17. The Light Blue side, however, vindicated its underdog reputation with some punchy individual performances, even if the ‘Cambridge tailwind’ proved insufficient to see a home victory. 

The events of the day, 33 in all, were divided into four matches: Men’s Blues, Women’s Blues, Men’s Seconds (Oxford’s Centipedes vs. Cambridge’s Alverstones) and Women’s Seconds (Millipedes vs. Alligators). With two athletes competing for both Oxford and Cambridge in each match, the day’s events involved over 230 athletes, making it one of the largest sporting occasions on the Varsity calendar.

Oxford beat Cambridge in the Men’s Blues match by 113 to 88, showing particularly strong performances in the field events, dominating both Hammer and Discus and claiming a tight win in the Javelin.

With twice as many Blues players as Cambridge, the Oxford side made sizeable gains throughout the day but faced a late threat in the form of a 5000m double victory for Cambridge. GB qualifier and Robinson student Oliver Fox demonstrated impressive pace in that event, showing 14:11 on the clock - the fastest time since 2009.

Pembroke’s Samuel Clarke also asked questions of the Oxford side in the hurdles (110m, 200m and 400m), setting new personal records in all three events after victory in the Fresher’s Varsity match last year.

Having claimed the 100m title for the past two years, Fitzwilliam’s Kaesi Opara was a fan favourite for the sprint, but faced formidable competition in the form of Oxford’s Isaac Kitchen-Smith, who managed to clinch top spot by 17 milliseconds. His time of 10.78 matches exactly Opara’s from last year and represents the fastest time in the event for over a decade.

The Women’s Blues category saw much closer competition, with only 3 points separating Oxford’s score of 102 against Cambridge’s 99. This contrasts with Oxford’s more assured victory of 112-100 last year, and reflects some powerful performances from both track and field. Jesuan Cara James made the only Blues distance in the Women’s Shot, while CUAC President Bridget Fryer was the only competitor to break 40m in the Women’s Discus. 

Billy Matthews (centre) competing for the Cambridge Men's Second team (Alverstones) in the 400mOliver Rhodes

It was in the track events where competition was most fierce, however, with the Cambridge’s Women’s team commanding multiple Blues standard performers, many of whom reprised their victories in last year’s events. Newnham’s Mary Adeniji returned victorious from the Long Jump with a new personal best of 5.58m, and Clare’s Moryo Aiyeola retained her 100m title followed closely by teammate Flo Cochrane.

Newnham’s Nancy Scott also delivered a dominant performance in the penultimate event of the day, taking an 8-second lead ahead of her rivals in the 2000m Steeplechase and setting a new personal record after her victory at Varsity X-Country late last year.

However Oxford’s dominance in the Triple Jump was assured by Adeniji’s last-minute drop out due to injury, her fourth-place position at the recent BUCS Triple Jump making the event one of those critical junctures which may well have tipped the balance for the Women’s overall score. Consistently strong performances in the track events also ensured the tight victory for Oxford’s Women, including impressive 400m and 800m performances from Dark Blue Isabelle Scott.

New arrivals provided a fresh source of inspiration for both sides: Girton fresher Jeremy Dempsey, with a medal already under his belt from the GB Cross Country championships, impressed spectators with his cool lead in the Men’s Blues 1500m, beating twice champion Alex Gruen of Oxford.

The Alligators and Alverstones also demonstrated some strong individual performances, at times beating their Light Blue counterparts. Downing Fresher Billy Matthews came tantalisingly close to the personal record set by Oxford Blue Cameron Bain running for the Alverstones in the 400m, and asked questions of his Blues counterparts in that event.

Shining individual performances however were not enough to close the 110-91 gap opened up by the Centipedes’ strong group performances in the sprints. Particular mention goes to Oxford Centipedes’ Ken Marshall, who swept away the competition from both Oxford and Cambridge Blues competitors with his victory in the 3000m Steeplechase, beating the personal record of Blues colleague Jamie Parkinson.

Competitors in the Women's Seconds' 110m hurdlesOliver Rhodes

For the Alligators, notable performances included Niamh Bridson-Hubbard’s victory in both the 800m and 1500m track events in what was otherwise a comprehensive victory for the Oxford Millipedes of 110 points to 89.

While no match records were broken this year, athletes and alumni from both Universities revelled in the heritage and spirit of the competition. From all sides there were generous gestures of sportsmanship, friends and colleagues reaching over the aisle to congratulate winners and commiserate losers.

Both sides will meet again at Wilberforce Road for the Transatlantic Series match on 29th June, which will see Oxford and Cambridge team up against US rivals Penn University and Cornell University. Whether Oxford’s hat trick will be avenged next year, however, will rest on the performances of some rising stars, already showing promise in this year’s events.

Updated, 21st May 2019: This article was updated to clarify that the Transatlantic Series match will take place on 29th June 2019, not 30th June as previously stated.

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