Sunny celebrations after a double Cambridge victoryBen Tufnell | Row360

My Teams call with Charlie took place nine days after the race, however this didn’t seem to be too much of an issue. He recounted the day with a clarity that made it seem like he’d just come off the boat. Such was the significance of victory.

Q: How nervous were you on the day?

A: I thought I’d be really nervous but we were all saying in the run up to the race that we were all quite surprised that none of us were feeling very nervous. We were all feeling quite chilled out, I think partly because the race was at Ely, which was more familiar territory for us. On the start line, my 6-man, Ollie Parish was still joking with me and I remember saying ‘never change’. You can see on the video, Drew [Taylor] is kind of smiling and I think we were still pretty chilled there. I just had to get the job right and make sure I was pointed exactly where I wanted to be.

Q: Did you have a plan from the start?

A: Yeah, we had quite a detailed plan all along the course. There weren’t many markers but we found some and we made some up as we went along. We imagined in the fourth kilometre that there were imaginary rocks at every 250[m] because our coach is a big fan of the book Touching the Void. In that, the person who’s fallen down the crevasse just has to crawl to the next rock. We also didn’t expect what happened to happen; we thought Oxford would be pretty fast out of the blocks. Most of us thought they’d lead us so it was a pleasant surprise to be up after a couple of minutes.

Q: Have you re-watched the footage and what did you make of the comments on your steering?

A: I have. I think most of it was pretty accurate. There were a couple of things I disagreed with that they were saying but fundamentally, on the day, there wasn’t much stream at all so being in the middle didn’t really help. But what did make a big difference was that there was a crosswind coming from the left. What I actually said on the finish line wasn’t 100% accurate: it was right but the amount that I gave wasn’t. So, because it’s sheltered on the left side, as far over as you can be that way, you just go faster, so the entire time I was just trying to be left as much as possible. I think I did that fairly well. I also had to balance in the fact that you can get disqualified if there’s contact.

"It was amazing"Ben Tufnell | Row360

Q: Were you concerned about the number of warnings you were given?

A: I was very aware I was being warned. But because the crews were running very parallel, you can be very, very close without any touching happening. And because there’s no bends, you can be really far over. We also discussed it before. After we lost the toss, I spoke with Rob and we came away with the decision that we were going to get warned a lot. So, there was a conversation before we got on the water and Rob said: “just so you know, expect to hear ‘Cambridge!’ a lot during this race”. So, I didn’t ever think I was in danger of being disqualified, but it was close.

Q: How did it feel to be so close to getting clear water between you and Oxford?

A: Actually, I think for two or three strokes there was a touch of open. I mean, it felt pretty good. Although, there was never a point where I felt like I could say to my crew, “ok, we can really go now and kill the race”. I always knew that we had to have quite a lot of respect for Oxford. It’s quite a big risk to try and kill the race, because if you don’t do it, you’re in quite a lot of trouble. That’s the main difference between the Tideway and Ely as well; when you’re on the Tideway, you can just kill it straight away, because if you can take the inside of their bends then that’s worth a lot. But because it was a straight-line course, the chances of a crew coming back from that distance is much greater.

Q: Were you aware of the obstacle during the race?

A: Yeah, that was not a particularly enjoyable bit of the race, to be honest. I saw the obstacle as soon as [Sarah] said it. I just remember I heard her tone change completely. I remember just thinking move as little as possible because I didn’t want to slow the boat down at all. I was also really hoping that Oxford would clear [the reeds] because I really didn’t want to restart the race. I think we still would have won, had the race restarted, but we had a very good start.

Q: What were the “emotional calls” that Callum said motivated the boat to the finish line?

A: I can say some of them, I don’t think I can say all of them. The main one was that we wanted to do it for the Goldie guys. We wanted to do it for the guys in the reserve boats who weren’t able to race. Breaking it up into 250 to 250, it was like, fifteen strokes for these people. We’re an unbelievably close group of friends at CUBC and while they weren’t there, it was 100% a team effort. The race was won by far more than the nine of us. The other thing was that we wanted to make Callum Sullivan go his whole time in Cambridge without losing a Boat Race, which is quite a cool thing to do. He won Goldie in his first year and he’s won two Blue Boats.

Q: How did it feel when you crossed the line?

A: It was pretty cool. It was pretty nice. I just didn’t really believe it almost. I think for a lot of us, maybe because it’s been such a weird year, it just sort of dawned on us that this was the Boat Race and we’d all just won it. The Boat Race is the most watched bit of rowing that goes on globally. More people watch the Boat Race than watch the Olympic finals, so it was so surreal that we had done it. A lot of us weren’t the type of people that usually win this race: we hadn’t always been stars the whole of our rowing career . We always believed we could do it, but so many others said that we couldn’t. It was incredible. I remember, Seb, in 3-seat said, with 100m to go, with absolute disbelief: “we’re going to win the Boat Race”. I can’t really describe what it was like to cross the finish line. It was amazing.

Q: How was your swim in the Ouse?

A: Oh, it was so cold. Oh my god, I went in the Thames two years ago when I won Isis-Goldie and the Thames is a lot warmer. I remember being thrown in and having to stay still for five seconds because I had cold water shock. But I went really high – there’s a picture of me above head height, which was pretty fun. But it was worse for the guys that jumped in because half the guys still had their masks on, which sucked onto their faces and they said it felt like being waterboarded.

Q: What did you do to celebrate?

A: There wasn’t a huge amount we could do because of COVID but there were some big bottles of Chapeldown going around. The people we really wanted to celebrate with were the other squad mates and all our alumni who are really supportive of us. But hopefully we’ll be able to do that later on in the year.