Victorious: The Men's Lightweight RowersDominic Jaques

The Cambridge University Men’s and Women’s Lightweight rowers recorded victory in this year’s Henley boat races, both winning by a margin of merely a few feet.

In front of a sizeable crowd, the Cambridge crews put on an excellent display, with victories for the Light Blues eight as well as the Christ College Women’s in their collegiate race, while Jesus College put in an excellent effort against Oxford’s much-favoured Oriel college.

The Lightweight races have taken place at Henley since their inception in 1975, however this year the schedule saw one notable absence, with the Heavyweight Women moving onto the Thames next week for the first time in the history of the Boat Race.

But their absence certainly did not detract from the picturesque spectacle on a pleasant afternoon in Henley-on-Thames, where Cantabrigians and Oxonians assembled en masse to cheer on the crews.

The collegiate races got things under way with Christ’s College and Green Templeton College, of Cambridge and Oxford respectively, taking to the water. It was the first appearance at Henley for female representation from both colleges, and it was Christ’s who set the tone for the rest of the day, with a strong victory over their Oxford counterparts.

Cambridge’s only defeat of the afternoon came in the Men’s collegiate race where Jesus succumbed to a strong Oriel eight , who won by a length, although officially the result was three due to Jesus’ ceasing to row before the finish.

The Cambridge women hold the lead as the race heads towards its endPeter Rutzler

Then it was onto the Lightweights. Lightweight rowers must meet the required weight in order to row, which for the men’s stands at 72.5kg and the women’s 59kg. Should they fail to make it, the athletes have to do anything possible to ‘make weight’. In the past, it was once known for rowers to shed a few pounds, according to one former Thames boat builder I spoke to, by shoving hops in the local Brakspeare brewery in Henley. Nowadays you would do well to find a rower at the local public house before a race, but the practice of ‘sweating’ is still a prevalent part of the sport to remove those remaining kilos.

After a strong start from Oxford in the women's race, the Cambridge Light Blues pushed back to hold an advantage for the majority of the race, holding a stroke rate of 35 strokes per minute which the Oxford crew could not match. However, they weren’t going to relinquish their reigning champion’s status without a fight, and sure enough, a late surge brought them to within arm’s reach of back-to-back varsity victories. Nevertheless, following umpire clarification, Cambridge prevailed to take their advantage over the Other Place to 17 wins to 15, with a time of 6 minutes and 26 seconds.

The Men’s Lightweights won last year’s race comfortably by three and a half lengths, however there was to be no repeat of last time as Oxford pushed them all the way. Again, as with the Ladies, Oxford came out of the blocks firing, edging ahead. But it wasn’t to last, as the Cantabs upped their stroke rate to 40 per minute, and nosed ahead by half way. As the race entered the last 500m, it looked like Cambridge would run away again, with their lead over half a length.

But Oxford were not about to give up, and they surged back into the contest. As the two crews roared towards the finish at Temple Island, both were warned by the race umpire for coming perilously close together. And, just metres from the line, the two sides clashed in frantic finale.

Oxford immediately appealed at the line, and the crowd waited with baited breath for the race umpire’s verdict and the official announcement. But it was worth the wait, as Cambridge were declared winners for the 25th time, with a time of 5 minutes and 55 seconds.

The day ended with Cambridge taking three out of four race winsPeter Rutzler

With three out of four race wins on the day, and both university crews securing victory, the Lightweights have set the ball rolling on what could be a perfect week of rowing for Cambridge.