Oxford University Athletic Club

The 144th Varsity Match

After the magnificent successes of the previous year, Oxford’s ambitions for the 2018 Varsity Match were simple: “More of the same, please.” The 4-0 Varsity win (comprising Men’s and Women’s matches, blues and seconds) had hitherto been a rare and exceptional event, but now it was to be attempted for the second time in as many years.

This time, admittedly, Oxford’s position was perhaps less assured than it had been in 2017. Cambridge had picked up a couple of wins in the Freshers’ Varsity and Field Events and Relays matches earlier in the season, as well as put in a very strong showing at the BUCS Outdoor Championships just two weeks before. They were not to be underestimated. But that merely added to the sense of excitement when, on a bright and already hot morning in May at Iffley Road, the two teams lined up to begin taking their pre-match photos: Oxford possessed all four match trophies at the start of that day – would we still be holding them at the end?

First to make their mark was Men’s Captain Jack Paget, who secured a convincing victory in the Hammer with a throw of 49.52m, showing his team exactly what was expected of them. Taking up the challenge, his vice-Captain Sandy Macaulay leapt to a new Long Jump PB of 6.89m to win his event as well (perhaps urged on by the proximity of the other Oxford jumper, Dan Smith, just 5cm behind him). The women’s team were keen to let fly a few opening salvos of their own, and Maria Brett and Jenny Richards duly obliged in the Hammer Throw – fantastic throwing from the two athletes produced distances of 44.60m and 43.30m respectively, and established Oxford’s all-round dominance in the field, a theme that would be important throughout the day.

At this point, events were just starting up on the track, and there were to be early successes for us here as well. The Men’s 400mH was really only a two horse race between the Oxford athletes Ronan Llyr and Louis Gardner, who were clear of their Cambridge rivals by well over 4 seconds. However, it was a different story in the Women’s 800m, where Charlotte Dannatt (only recently back from international cross-country duties), in a masterful display of frontrunning, managed to fend off multiple challenges from Cambridge’s 800m specialist throughout the final 200m to seize an exciting victory by just two tenths of a second, in 2:13.62. Club President Miles Weatherseed was on the receiving end of similar tactics in the Men’s Blues race and in the end did not quite have the strength to come past in the home straight, but it was the Men’s Second’s 800m which delivered one of the most exciting finishes of the day – Cambridge’s Seb Cheli put in a kick at the 250m mark and going into the home straight, the gap was at least 15m. But a never say die attitude from Sam Brown allowed him to close down the gap and more, delivering a heroic win by just 4 hundreths of a second, at which the crowd erupted.

However, after our early successes, the momentum of the match seemed to shift slightly in Cambridge’s favour. Their two star sprinters performed well and gave the tabs event wins in both the Men’s and Women’s 100m and 200m, whilst victory in the Men’s 400m also went to

Cambridge. However, the strength of this Oxford team is underpinned by its first-class field athletes, and all through the excitement of the track events, they were out in the field quietly but steadily accumulating points. In particular, Nithesh Ranasinha and Teele Palumaa won the Men’s and Women’s High Jump respectively, both in convincing style; Jenny Richards followed up her earlier success in the Hammer with an important win in the Discus; and Jude Bright-Davis, current BUCS and England Champion, won the Men’s Triple Jump with absolute ease. Best of all was the performance by Archie McNeillis in the Men’s Pole Vault, who sailed over the bar at 5.01m to set a new match record. He was so far clear he probably could have jumped even higher, but did not have a long enough pole with him!

Back on the track, it was time for the Rex van Rossum Memorial 110mH, so-called after the much-respected ex-President of OUAC, who sadly passed away in 2016. This race was fortunately won by an Oxford man, Liam Eagle, with Harry Salt coming through to take 2nd place as well; the women, however, over the 100mH were up against very tough competition and had to settle for 2nd and 3rd. By this point Cambridge had begun to take a narrow lead in the Women’s Blues match, and it would need some big performances over the coming events if we were to drag it back.

Answering the call, Irene Gibson and Sophie Haldane put in strong runs in the Women’s 400m to confidently take an Oxford 1,2, and begin the fight back. The Men’s Mile was next up on the track, and both Alex Gruen and Jamie Parkinson produced quality displays of confident running: after a tactical opening few laps, Alex Gruen cruised past the tabs at the bell and rapidly opened up a 25m lead on the back straight, by which point there was to be no catching him. On the back straight, Jamie Parkinson’s kick, just as he was starting to look like he was fading, sent the home crowd wild and I dare say broke a few Cambridge hearts. After another win in the throws, with Caspar Whitehead pinging his Javelin out to 58.79m, it was beginning to look like the match win was secure for the Oxford Men.

For the Women, however, the match scores were still pretty even going into the Mile; but then Dani Chattenton, in the first of her two races that day, kicked past her opposite number in the home straight and picked up some valuable points for Oxford. Meanwhile there were, as we have come to expect, some very strong performances from the Oxford Women in the field. Katie Dennison won the Shot with a distance of 11.17, which was followed by some exceptional Javelin throwing by Kate Davies, who won that event with a match record throw of 42.43m.

With the field events concluded, and just a couple more track events left to go, a crackly voice came over the tannoy to announce the interim scores: all Oxford teams were back in the lead. After some hasty back-of-the-programme calculations, it was also suggested that not only had the Oxford Men already won their matches, but that the Women were also just one event win away from doing so as well! And the final individual event remaining? It was the Women’s 2000m steeplechase; featuring Dani Chattenton once again, barely an hour after her mile race. This needn’t have caused any concern however – in the end, she won the race (and therefore the match) with a substantial margin over the Cambridge athletes whilst Anna Sharp made it an Oxford 1,2 for good measure.

Despite the final match results already being known, the relays were still as exciting as ever, being run for pride more than anything else. The Men’s Blues 4x100m in particular went right down to the final dip, but ultimately this and the Women’s race were won by the Cambridge sprinters. It was a different result in the 4x400m, and event which showcased the strength and depth of our long sprints squad at the moment – both Men’s and Women’s races were won by Oxford, the latter by over 6 seconds.

With that, the conclusion of the match, there was jubilation for the Dark Blues. We had succeeded in our ambitions and once again beaten the tabs in all four Varsity Matches: Men’s and Women’s, Blues and Seconds. This was the first time than an Oxford team has ever won the Varsity Matches 4-0 back-to-back. Can we do the same again next year, and achieve a first ever three in a row? Only time will tell, but the strength and atmosphere of the club at the moment would certainly suggest so. All we can say is: “More of the same, please.”

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