Athletics: Tabs canter to third win on the trot

Jake Shelley

The 137th Varsity Athletics match took place on Saturday 21st May at Wilberforce Road, Cambridge under glorious blue skies. The dominant blue of the day, however, was Light rather than Dark, as the match unfortunately resulted in a convincing home victory for Cambridge. The Oxford team was defeated in the men’s and women’s blues and seconds matches by a group of highly talented Light Blues, but there were nevertheless some truly outstanding Oxford performances.

The Oxford performance of the day came in the Women’s Blues match from Clara Blattler, competing in the pole vault. Blattler vaulted 3.50 to break the match record and earn herself the Best Field Performance award on the day. But her Varsity Match was far from over as Blattler also won the 400m hurdles, came second in 100m hurdles, third in both the long and triple jump and also performed admirably in the relay.

The 800m was also a successful event for Oxford. Following Blattler’s example were Rachel Deegan and the Club’s inspirational president Catriona Witcombe, who took first and second, respectively. Catriona equalled Clara by competing in six events on the day and she displayed her all round athletic ability in each of them. If ever there was an example set of how to lead a team in adversity, then it was Witcombe’s.  There were two further wins in the Womens Blues match, in the 5000m for Hayley Munn and in the Javelin for Katie Braham.

In the Men’s Blues match Oxford were dominant in the middle- and long-distance track events, as befits the famous heritage that includes, of course, Roger Bannister, the first man to break four minutes for the mile back in 1954. Some of the Bannister spirit seemed to have journeyed to Cambridge with the side, as Chris McGurk looked  in supreme form in winning the 1500m.  McGuirk was ably backed up by talented fresher, Tom Frith, who took 2nd in the same race. Luke Caldwell took the win with a strong last lap in the 5000m, an achievement all the more impressive given that he had been third in a hotly contested, fast paced 800m earlier in the day.

The Oxford sprinters and field eventers battled hard all day but were generally outclassed by their Cambridge counterparts. One exception to this was Laurent Stephenson from Balliol, who won the Javelin with a phenomenal personal best throw of 52.34m.

Eloise Waldon-Day was awarded the trophy for Second Team Performance of the day for her strong performances in the 400m, 200m hurdles, 400m hurdles, high jump, pole vault, discus, javelin and shot put.

It may have been noted by readers that several athletes competed in multiple events and this is indicative of a lack of strength in depth across the board. This was not helped by the withdrawal of several of Oxford’s very best athletes at the last minute due to injury and ineligibility.

With the British Universities championships being held at the new Olympic stadium in London next summer, the Athletics Club will look to recruit some talented new athletes across all events to bolster the side for the Varsity match next year.

Despite this year’s disappointment, the OUAC has a history of success which Cambridge are yet to match. Oxford still have the upper hand in the overall number of Men’s Blues matches, with 73 wins versus Cambridge’s 56. That said, it will take a serious effort to overhaul the worrying trend that is beginning to develop, with Cambridge taking the win in the last three years. It is though, a challenge that Oxford are certainly capable of succeeding in when the match returns home to fortress Iffley next year.