Oxford University Athletic Club

Match Report: The 143rd Varsity Match

The last time OUAC recorded a 4-0 Summer Varsity win over their toothpaste green rivals from the Fens, Michael Johnson ran his 400m world record, Manchester United won the treble, and Star Wars the Phantom Menace premiered. The year? 1999.

 

Having had a golden year in the build-up to the match, with record victory margins in the Fresher’s Varsity Match in November, and an emphatic 4-0 victory in the Indoor Varsity Field Events and Relays, Oxford were being touted as heavy favourites. Complacency could have been the biggest killer. On the eve of the match, disaster struck, with star Estonian heptathlete, Teele Palumaa, being ruled out through illness. After some fairly manic scrambling, calling on the large network of Oxford sportswomen, the vacated spots were filled, but the Women’s Blues and Seconds teams were severely weakened.

 

In apprehension and excitement, the team arrived, and after dispensing with the formalities of the team photos, they were ready to kick the shoeing off. Hard earned 1-2 victories in the Men’s Blues 400mh and 800m came from Varsity veterans 2016 Vice Captain, Louis Gardner, and his successor, Ronan Llyr, and 2016 Blues Captain, Louis Rawlings and this year’s President, Hugo Fleming. The blue riband 100m however, saw the shock rise of Cambridge’s new found sprinting sensation, Kaesi Opara, who saw off last year’s winner Isaac Kitchen-Smith in a thrilling finish.

 

The Oxford women struggled on the track, and by late afternoon, they had only succeeded in winning the 800m, with a gutsy run from Irene Gibson. However in the field, Captain Anna Niedbala led the way with fine wins in the hammer, discus and shot, receiving the best throwing performance trophy. It was at 4pm, when the 1500m and triple jump got underway, when the women finally began to put pressure on the tabs. A surprise win from hurdler Freya Shearer in the triple jump, followed by strong win from Vice Captain, Dani Chattenton in the 1500m gave the women a slim chance of victory.

 

In the seconds matches, Oxford’s depth shone through, winning all bar one of the men’s track events and dominating in the field. The women’s seconds charge was spearheaded by Seconds Athlete of the Match, Kate Kennedy, unfortunately not blues eligible, who set match records in the 100mh, 400mh and 400m.

 

The men’s blues dominance on the track, only losing 3 races all day, and fine performances in the field, were enough to seal the victory with several events to spare. A string of tactical masterclasses in the distance events were capped off by Alex Gruen running a searing last 300m to take the 1500m, and Jamie Parkinson running away from his nearest opposition down the home straight in the 5000m. Setting the bar high in the pole vault, Varsity debutant, Archie McNeillis, jumped a full 35cm PB – winning the most improved athlete trophy. Not to be outdone, Men’s Athlete of the Match, Rowan May, soared over 4.90m, before just brushing off the bar on his record breaking attempt of 5.01m. Not done, he led off the 4×100 relay, seeing the team go agonisingly short of another match record, just 0.1 seconds away.


Meticulous preparation saw Oxford claim all 4×100 races, credit to the hard work of coaches (and ex-light blues) Bridget Wheeler and Emma Hooper. A storming run for the women’s blues, setting the Oxford record, meant they were in sight of the finishing line. A 1-2 in the javelin from Oxford’s all time record holder Kate Davies and Bella Coutts, was followed by a stunning Oxford all time record from joint Women’s Athlete of the Match, Dani Chattenton, in the 2000m steeplechase, dragging the women over the line.

 

As the dust settled on a thrilling day for the Dark Blue Warriors, all eyes turned to the scores. Securing victory by just two points, the women’s blues match was by far the closest match, with the victory margins in the other matches demonstrating the strength of this year’s team. After nearly a decade of heavy defeats to the Tabs, the victories were all the sweeter. Having succeeded in taking the fabled ‘La Decibel’ 10-0 series victory, OUAC is very much back on track and looking forward to next year.

Hugh Baker

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