First off, an important formality: Torpids differs from Summer Eights in one crucial way. Come Eights, the bumping crew and the crew just bumped drop out of racing. At Torpids, the crew that has been bumped keeps rowing. A subtle change on the rule book, a massive one on the water: the bumps charts for Eights are neat circuit board diagrams, all right-angle intersections and straight lines. For Torpids; plates of spaghetti, testament to manic, chaotic racing.
That said, last year’s race for the men’s Headship was not obviously chaotic. Christ Church rowed over all four days for the Headship, as did Pembroke in second and Magdalen in third, not a single bump traded between the three. Can this stasis right at the top of Division 1 continue? Maurus Wuethrich trialled with the Blues and will be rowing for Pembroke M1, saying that they “are under no illusions and will be facing a very strong opponent. Christ Church will do everything to hold on to their headship”.
In Women’s Division 1, Magdalen currently sit top of the pile. They started third on the river last year, bumping 2009 Headship St Catz on Friday into second place.
Teddy Hall, holders of the Headship at Eights for four consecutive years until Balliol bumped them on Wednesday of last year, lurk dangerously in third position. Like in Men’s Division 1, the Headship race is not necessarily the one to go to for bumps galore, but when those bumps do come they mean all the more for it. Balliol sit in ninth, too big a gap to launch an attack on the headship this year, but will be looking to line themselves up for 2012 following Blades last year. They will be chased on Day 1 by Osler House, who a decade ago were themselves on a dominant run of five consecutive headships. In Division 3, New have the highest-placed 2nd boat, but unlike Pembroke M2, have a raft of others hot on their tail.
Torpids does sit somewhat in the shadows of Eights, but it would be churlish to define it purely in terms of Headships and absent Blues. Look up and down the divisions, and there are interesting storylines galore. Green Templeton Boat Club is the newest on the river, founded in 2008. Their boats have had to start right at the bottom of the river. The Club’s President Andrew Symington is “exceptionally proud of how much ground we have already covered” and points to some promising results in the Isis Winter League.
Two places above their M1 sits St Hilda’s top boat. Having been formed in 2008, they are also looking at the bigger picture, in pursuit of the fixed divisions.
But amidst all the feel-good factor, Torpids is frequently cruel. Ask any of the crews that fell several spaces, whole divisions even last year. Ask St. Peter’s W1. A disastrous 2008 saw them drop two divisions. 2009 saw them regain 4 places on the river, 6 more followed last year. Returning to where they belong amongst other W1s may yet take a few more years. What St Peter’s W1 will know, and what Symington – dreaming, one can imagine, of a Green-Templeton Double Headship in 2050 – is that Torpids isn’t just about the here and now. Go down to the riverbanks and cheer your flagging W2 across the line for a row over that tastes like the sweetest victory. Head to the gut and watch as the M3 who have been bumped every day finally claw back some glory.Cycle down to the start and watch the intensity on the face of a 1st VIII stroke, hear his cox roar as the start gun sounds. You’re not just watching the present, you’re watching the past, and the future. You’re watching your college’s reputation put to the sword. Torpids, as old as many of the buildings we live and study in every day, is part of the fabric of this university, it’s history and enduring traditions.