With Cambridge’s two openweight crews set in stone for the Boat Race 2022 after Monday’s (7/3) announcement, the Light Blue rowers are now entering a crucial four weeks of training ahead of the Battle of the Blues on Sunday 3rd April. Both Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) Men and Women have one fixture left ahead of the big day, taking on the Dutch National Team (21/3) and Nereus (20/3) respectively.

Speaking before the much-anticipated announcement of the crews, CUBC Women’s President Bronya Sykes (Gonville & Caius) said: “Not only does the crew announcement mark the final countdown into the Boat Races, but it also acts to unify the crew as one force to face Oxford.

“These are the people who we will be lining up on the start line with at the beginning of April. The training this year, as usual, has pushed us hard, but every athlete at CUBC has searched for the next step to continue to make gains across the season.”

The Cambridge rowers have been training for this year’s Races since September 2021, undertaking a gruelling couple of months of strength and conditioning before taking to the Tideway for the first time in Trial VIIIs, with the men racing in December and the women slightly later in January due to Covid complications.

“We’ve had a good range of conditions [at Ely] in the last month and have been working through the wash and the wind, and we made the most of it. I think we’re really stepping on and finding something”

CUBC Men’s Chief Coach, Rob Baker, spoke on his crew’s preparation: “I think we’re on track for where we’d like to be. There’s always some speed to find however well you think you’re going, and I’ve got to say to the guys: ‘we’re probably behind where we think we should be’ to grasp every bit of it. It’s an endless search for speed. I think we’re in a good place, but we’ve got four weeks to go.”

Remembering the final four weeks before last year’s victorious Race, Baker commented: “The progress we made in those four weeks was something I’d never seen before, it was such a peculiar thing.”

This year’s Boat Race returns to the Championship Course after a three-year hiatusPeter Hogan/@peterhoganmedia

During the preparation period this time round, Baker hasn’t shied away from switching things up in the Blue boat, particularly at the stroke position between Ollie Parish (Peterhouse) and Tom George (Peterhouse). Both rowers sat in the stroke seat in opposite boats at Trial VIIIs, while more recently Parish took the seat against Oxford Brookes after George rowed stroke against Leander. Dismissing any ‘Battle of the Stroke’ tale, Baker said: “I’m pretty happy with Ollie’s stroking. Tom’s such a powerful oarsman that the six seat is quite an obvious seat for him, but it’s good to not get stuck in the same order the whole time.”

He continued: “I think Ollie is a very good fit for that seat. He’s very experienced, even for a young guy, and he knows the race very well.”

“The girls that we have coming in from the international side are just loving it and really getting behind the whole experience”

Living just five minutes away from the Championship Course in Putney, and raised by a father who rowed for Team GB at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, it’s safe to say that rowing and Parish are a natural fit. Learning to row at St Paul’s School, along with his brother Jasper who will be coxing the Cambridge Women’s boat in April, Parish enjoyed home comfort when taking to the Tideway in Trial VIIIs - “this is like my home water” - but has been moved around frequently in the Blue boat, even rowing at the six in the 2021 Race: “I’ve been moved around quite a lot - I’ve been at two, four, six, and stroke - but I don’t particularly mind. I have absolute trust in Rob [Baker] and I just want to go as fast as I can go.”

“I think I have a technical edge on most people,” Parish explains, “I’m a bit more comfortable with being moved around and don’t get stressed out, which is a useful skill to have in this environment.”

Briefly addressing the mood in the Cambridge camp, Parish was full of praise for the group’s time spent in Ely: “We’ve had a good range of conditions in the last month and have been working through the wash and the wind, and we made the most of it. I think we’re really stepping on and finding something. So, when we came down to the Tideway, we had to just bring that positive momentum to a different course.”

Parish’s teammate, George, will sit at the six seat in this year’s Cambridge boat. A bronze medallist in Tokyo and fresh off topping the Senior Men’s Pair at GB Trials with fellow Blue-boat man Oliver Wynn-Griffith (Peterhouse), George described the dialled-in focus of the Blues as similar to the national setup: “I initially thought there was going to be a difference [in atmosphere], but there really wasn’t. Everyone brings the same approach and everyone wants to be the best they can be, and that atmosphere in the squad is really great.

Tom George shakes the hand of his Oxford opposite number, Charlie ElwesPeter Hogan/@peterhoganmedia

“The thing that’s even more amazing here is how people balance their workload with training. The amount of rowing time we do is very comparable [to Team GB], and yet you’re always charging from Goldie, to class, to then get the train to Ely, but I love it and thrive in that space.”

George also commended the attitudes of crewmates James Hunter (St Catharine’s) and Simon Schürch (St Edmund’s), two former Rio Olympians who came to Cambridge this year: “With Simon and Jamie it was really interesting because, for the first half of the year, I think they were both frustrated that they’d been these amazing athletes yet after four or five years of retirement had lost that, and they had to work back to it.

“But now they’re there, I think they’re really happy with it. Obviously, to do that you have to make sacrifices elsewhere, and they’ve done that really well and are both absolute assets to our boat.”

“Everyone brings the same approach and everyone wants to be the best they can be, and that atmosphere in the squad is really great”

A returning Blue, however, is CUBC Women’s Caoimhe Dempsey (Newnham), who will take the two seat behind Tokyo Olympian Imogen Grant next month after rowing at the four last year. Under new Chief Coach Patrick Ryan, “training is going really well,” Dempsey explains, “we’ve got a really nice mix of experienced athletes. You could imagine that having that breadth of experience can cause difficulty in getting on the same page in one boat, but it’s working really well.

“The girls that we have coming in from the international side are just loving it and really getting behind the whole experience, especially as the year has gotten on and the excitement surrounding the Race builds.” Dempsey will be joined by Kiwi Olympians Ruby Tew (Queens’) and Grace Prendergast (Queens’) at the four and seven seats respectively.


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“I feel really, really lucky to be here this year, and it’s come at a great time for me in terms of where I am,” Dempsey says, “this is my seventh year of rowing, and if I’d have been in this squad earlier maybe I wouldn’t have gotten that much out of it, but now I feel like the improvement I’ve made this year has been huge.”

Building on her family’s heritage in sport, which involves an Olympian great-grandfather, a grandmother who was on the Ireland hockey team, and a hill-runner mother who represented Ireland, Dempsey revels in how proud her family are to have a Boat Race rower amidst their ranks: “They love it and are really behind it - they love sport!

“It’s nice to feel like you have generations of your family following this sporting tradition, and I want to carry that on as much as anything else. It also makes you feel like you’re able to do it. It’s definitely not a pressure, it’s something to celebrate.”

As the CUBC rowers prepare to leave everything out on the water at this year’s Race, hoping to defend their double victory from last time out, George deftly puts the scale of the event into a digestible aspiration: “You want to be on the right side of history.”

Win or lose, however, both crews will continue the writing of the lengthy narrative that is the Boat Race, notching up the Women’s 76th and Men’s 167th clashes on Sunday 3rd April.