A Boat Race Coxswain’s take on Zoe de Toledo’s error

Over on RSR Alistair Pottswrites a long piece on what it was like watching the Boat Race

Alistair Potts in 1990
Alistair Potts in 1990 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

from a launch following the crews.  In it, he turns his attention to the losing Oxford coxswain, Zoe de Toledo and using his long Tideway experience illuminates to us outsiders some possible reasons why she did what she did and why what happened, happened.  Here he picks up the story after the re-start….

And within seconds John [the umpire] is warning Oxford. She’s cutting the bend, because that’s what your eyes tell you to do.  If the race hadn’t been stopped she wouldn’t make such a basic error, but the restart is not what you train for, and like a novice on her first Tideway visit she’s way off line.

Not that that’s an excuse.  There’s only one correct course in the Boat Race, and that’s where the umpire tells you to go.  You don’t have to go that way, the umpire’s not there to steer for you, he’s there to make it very, very clear if you’re not in your water, and if you’re not in your water then it’s tough shit if you screw up.  And wow, did she screw up.

Zoe, all you had to do was point your boat in the right direction. All you needed to do was steer the course and you’d probably have won. But you didn’t.  Your selfish aggression cost your crew the chance of winning.  Not the guy in the water, don’t blame him.  Shit happens.  No, you fucked this up because your pride told you you’re some sort of wonder-woman.  Well you’re not, your job is to gain the maximum advantage for your crew, and if that brings you distinction good for you. But you seek glory at your peril, and you went looking for glory, fishing for the dubious pseudo-machismo of getting stuck in.  Your payback was blowing seven months of hard work in a few seconds.  Your hubris was your destruction, but a thousand times worse it brought destruction on your crewmates.  They put you in the position of ultimate trust, and your repayment to them, your return for them dragging your arse from Putney to Mortlake, was to humiliate them.

You’re not the first to steer badly.  You’re not the first to imagine you’re bigger than the boat, that you can gain some vainglorious honour, some permanent place among the roster of Boat Race greats by scrapping around at the raw edges of your crew.  And you have, in your own way gained something of what your sought.  Because from now on, those who wish to steer for the universities will forever look to you as the example of how to never, ever behave.

So anyway, we’re a bit stunned for a few seconds.  Zoe’s gesticulating wildly, and then Oxford sprint in desperation but to no avail.  Later I spoke to the Cambridge guys and not one was aware that Oxford had lost a blade – why would they?  We knew though, and it was a subdued procession that made it’s way to the finish line. We were right there alongside Oxford underneath Chiswick Bridge while Zoe appealed and John essentially told them you have lost.  The stroke man smacks his oar on the water in frustration.

And we stand up and applaud them, because that seems the appropriate thing to do. They never stopped trying even when they had no chance, and there is no greater test than that.

Read the whole article here and definitely take some time to read the comments thread here with some sparking attacks and parrys, including Alistair’s parting shot

The Boat Race is always, always won the same way: because you break the other crew.  Sometimes it happens very obviously to an oarsman who literally can’t go on; usually less obviously in the minds of the competitors; and a little more often than you might think it’s not a rower that breaks first, it’s the cox.  That’s how it’s done and we try to accept victory and defeat in the same way that 158 crews have had to do before us.

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