20 years, 20 wins was the University of Sheffield Rowing Club’s record coming into Varsity 2017. In all the calculations and projections, this is one that is always down on paper as a comfortable Uni win.
But Varsity isn’t played on paper. It’s played on the chill murky waters of Damflask Reservoir, in wet and windy conditions that brought lady luck into play.
Whilst the Women’s event was very much the foregone conclusion that was expected, the Men’s was much more hostage to fortune, leaving the result down to the final race.
The Women’s event started with an unexpected flash of competition. The Novice Four turned the corner of Damflask a length ahead, but Hallam came back strongly but couldn’t quite edge out the Uni boat.
The competitive edge in the Women’s contest swiftly dissipated. They took the Senior Eight by three lengths, and wrapped up the Varsity point in the minimum number of races with a closer victory in the Quad Skulls.
They took the Novice Eight too, adding icing to the cake, but Hallam had their consolation in the Senior Four to make the final score 2-1.
The Men’s competition was in contrast nailbiting. Hallam took the lead in the first race of the day. The Novice Eight won by two and a half lengths to put Uni under immediate pressure.
Uni came back in the Senior Four, winning one of the closer matchups by less than half a length.
Then came the drama. Uni looked to be cruising the Novice Four, but as they rounded the corner they caught a crab. The choppy conditions meant that the oar stuck in the water and the Uni boat turned through 45 degrees, killing their momentum. Hallam cruised through to take a surprise lead, leaving Uni one crab away from being pâté on toast.
No such misfortune befell the Uni Double Sculls pair of Thomas Aslon and Jason Burnap in the fourth race as they won comfortably.
The Varsity point hung in the balance. As they rounded the corner, Uni looked to be edging it, and they only got stronger in the end, winning by a couple of lengths.
Black and gold blushes were spared. It’s 21 years and counting.