LONDON – Former Olympic champion James Cracknell became the oldest Boat Race winner as Cambridge defeated Oxford by one length on Sunday.
Cracknell is a double-Olympic gold medallist and six-time world champion, but this was the 46-year-old’s first taste of glory in the annual race between the two English university crews on the River Thames in London.
Inspired by Cracknell, Cambridge battled to victory in a feat dubbed “off the scale” by his former Great Britain rowing colleague Matthew Pinsent.
Eight years older than the previous record holder, Cambridge’s 1992 cox Andy Probert, Cracknell suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2010 when fracturing his skull in a bike accident in Arizona.
Cracknell refused to bow to that setback, battling back to top form and fitness.
And after last week confirming the end of his marriage to Beverley Turner, the Peterhouse College masters student pulled off an extraordinary personal achievement.
“On the start, I thought ‘I’ve missed this’,” Cracknell told the BBC.
“The first few minutes were great, but they just didn’t drop. To be honest the endurance wasn’t a problem.
“If I had any doubt it would have been my sprinting. I just made sure I stuck it in and hopefully, we had enough in the bank.”
Cracknell conceded more than 25 years on some of his team-mates but belied his age to leave friends and former colleagues in awe.
Cracknell’s fellow former Olympian Pinsent said: “It’s extraordinary that he’s got himself into the shape, at 46, of a 24-year-old.
“I only know one person who could do that, and it’s James. It’s just off the scale.”
It was a day of double celebration for Cambridge, who won the Women’s Boat Race for the third year in succession, beating Oxford by five lengths.
Cambridge appeared close to a record time at the halfway stage, but eventually clocked 18 minutes and 47 seconds, some 14 seconds behind their winning time in 2017.
Cambridge stroke Lily Lindsay has rowed internationally for the USA but insisted nothing compared to a Boat Race victory.
“There’s nothing like this,” Lindsay told the BBC.
“Training alongside my team-mates has been unbelievable. It’s been a pleasure.”AFP