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Cambridge University Boat Club’s Matt Edge perfectly encapsulates gruelling nature of Gemini Boat Races

If ever an image was needed to encapsulated the gruelling nature of the Gemini Boat Races, then on Saturday Cambridge University Boat Club’s Matt Edge provided it.

The sight of Edge, who occupied the stroke seat in the men’s crew, being lifted by his club-mates out of the boat and swiftly escorted away for medical attention showed just how much every single athlete has to give physically and mentally to the cause.

Edge – also a member of last year’s triumphant squad – was visibly in trouble during the closing stages of the more than four-mile long contest – at least three times the distance asked of Olympic rowers.

An exhausted Matt Edge is helped from the boat after Cambridge’s win Picture: OP Photographic
An exhausted Matt Edge is helped from the boat after Cambridge’s win Picture: OP Photographic

Exhausted from going to the well one too many times, the St Catharine’s student’s head and shoulders lulled as he struggled to keep his blade in the water.

Thankfully for Cambridge, by that point they had already opened up an imperious and unassailable advantage and with Luca Ferraro taking up the stroke’s responsibilities from seat seven, the eventual winning margin was a handy three-and-a-half lengths.

And once Edge was receiving the treatment that he required, the celebrations began as the men joined their female colleagues to celebrate a fifth Boat Race victory double in the last six years.

Speaking about his stricken team-mate, men’s president Seb Benzecry said: “Matt absolutely took it on. He was a big reason as to how we managed to get out into such a big lead.

“It was a little bit of a concern but we had Luca in seven who took some of the pressure off and really assumed that stroking role once Matt wasn’t put in as much work.

“I’m so proud of Matt for putting himself into that place. He was an absolute warrior for us.”

Given Cambridge’s continued domination of the prestigious fixture, some may have found it hard to fathom exactly why Oxford University Boat Club were such strong favourites to win both races this year.

As it was, Cambridge were in no mood to go with the script. Their charge was spearheaded by the women, who stretched their winning sequence to seven in the process. Seven, in fact, was the magic number given that it was also the size of the victory margin.

There was a delay before their success was rubber stamped following an appeal from Oxford cox Joe Gellett, who insisted that the Cambridge boat had cut across his crew’s path as they took the lead just after Hammersmith Bridge.

But that always looked like a desperation plea rather than an argument with any significance substance – perhaps understandable given that Oxford had threatened to open up clear water on a couple of occasions, only to be reeled in. And that was certainly the viewpoint of experienced umpire Richard Phelps, who dismissed the notion of any wrongdoing from Cambridge cox Hannah Murphy.

Murphy said of the incident: “Seeing them (getting) closer and closer, I knew we were on our station. I had even moved slightly off our station, but I was really confident that I was in the right there and I wanted to get right back on our rhythm as soon as possible. You can see (on the replay) that we immediately take off.”

Meanwhile, president Jenna Armstrong – now a two-time Boat Race winner – said: “This year we were slated as the underdogs going in. Our race plan was just to go out there and row our best race – go as fast as we possibly can.

“To be honest it was about hanging on for as long as we could and wait for our opportunity to pop up. This year that opportunity happened under Hammersmith Bridge, that’s where we really found our rhythm – that’s when we moved.

“We do a lot of mindset work. That’s one of the strongest parts of our programme and that’s why we were able to pull that out of the bag today. Our headspace was in the right place and that’s been years in the making.

“I knew our base pace was fast enough so it was about trusting in each other and knowing that was enough.”

As well as being a double for Cambridge, there was also plenty to celebrate for Jesus College given that the two presidents – Armstrong and Benzecry – are both their students.

In the build up to the race Benzecry had cut a calm and collected character – appearing almost unflappable. But the emotion was there for all to see at the finish line as he roared to the crowd and slapped the water repeatedly before embracing a Goldie crew that had won the reserve race a few minutes earlier.

“It’s such a relief. Being a president has been the biggest privilege of my life, but it’s also been a lot of pressure. I’ve felt a lot of responsibility and I knew the challenge from Oxford was going to be huge this year,” said Benzecry, who was appearing on Boat Race day for the fourth and final time after three appearances for the Light Blues and one in the reserve fixture.

“We all knew that we were going to have to push things on more than we ever had before.

“I’m so, so glad that it came off. The guys have worked so hard. I wanted this for all of us and it’s just the most amazing feeling you can have.”

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