Catz students triumph at the Boat Races

Wednesday 17 April 2024


St Catharine’s has proudly welcomed back six students who rowed for Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) in a series of races against Oxford on the Championship Course in London in March. While CUBC was unable to replicate the clean sweep achieved in 2023, all the crews that included a St Catharine’s student won their races. 

Sir John Benger (1979, English), Master of St Catharine’s, commented:

“Given that Cambridge started as the underdogs, I could not be prouder of what they have accomplished. It is remarkable that every boat with a Catz rower won their race and I look forward to our May Bumps campaign when most of these students are set to row for us! I am also proud of the support that they have received from the Catz community, from our outstanding Head Rowing Coach Carmen Failla teaching two out of the six students to row for the first time, to all the Catz voices cheering on the crews in London.”

In addition, the Senior Cup was presented to the winners of the Veterans’ Boat Race for the first time in tribute to St Catharine’s alumnus Dr Tim Senior (1993, Economics). Read on to find out more. 

Men’s Blue Boat | 30 March 2024

Matt Edge (2018, Natural Sciences; now a Chemistry PhD student) rowed at stroke and set a ferocious pace that enabled Cambridge to win the 169th Men’s Race by 3.5 lengths. In the final minutes of the race, it was clear to Matt and spectators alike that he was flagging. Speaking to BBC Look East afterwards, he said:

“I realised I was first struggling about 10 minutes in and I thought I’d try and manage it. As the race developed, I realised that I was starting to go but held on for as long as I could. I probably could’ve held back and gone a bit later and saved a little bit for the second half but… It is good to go when you get a chance.

“I was pretty much conscious the whole time. [At the finish] I was basically trying to convince all the medical team that I was fine and just needed a banana… but when I went to get my feet out of the boat my leg wouldn’t work and I realised I was going to have to get carried out of this boat, and if you’re getting carried out you don’t have much choice of where you’re going – you’re going to the medical tent!

“I was really flattered by the response… my phone was ringing off the hook for a few days. I’ve just really, genuinely been blown off my feet by the concern and want to reassure everyone that I was actually fine. I’d just been a bit silly and overdone it in the first half. I will try and make it all the way to the end of the race next year!”

Cambridge blue boat in the 2024 Boat Race
Matt Edge at stroke in the men's blue boat (credit: Benedict Tunfell/Row 360)

He added, “I've received lots of support over the years from the Annual Fund Sports Bursary at St Catharine’s. It's enabled me to pursue rowing to this level without having to worry about the cost of subs and training camps and can keep my focus on the rowing (and studying!).”

Matt has now won three back-to-back boat races: he was at bow in the Men’s Blue Boat in 2023 and at stroke in the 2022 Lightweight Men’s Race (when he was also CUBC Lightweight Men’s President). 

Women’s Blue Boat | 30 March 2024

Clare Hole (2020, Natural Sciences; now a Population Health Sciences MPhil student) was in the 7 seat when Cambridge claimed their seventh victory in a row and won the 78th Women’s Boat Race by 7 lengths. Like Matt, Clare has racked up an impressive number of victories: she rowed to wins with the Women’s Reserve Boat (Blondie) in both 2022 and 2023.

The Oxford cox raised an appeal at the end of the race, arguing that the Cambridge boat had crossed their path, but the appeal was dismissed after a discussion with umpire Richard Phelps.

Claire said, “I’m incredibly proud of what the whole CUBC squad has achieved, and it was particularly special to row in a race that has such a standing in women’s rowing and sport as a whole. Oxford got ahead of us at the start but we managed to move through them seat by seat, thanks to our trust in each other and our rhythm. I was on the Oxford side of the boat and it was an intense few moments when they bumped us, which I could see clearly and reported to our cox, who made the call to pick up speed to get us out of the situation and push on to the finish line.”

Originally a dressage rider who represented Great Britain, Clare became hooked on rowing in her first summer at St Catharine’s between COVID-19 lockdowns. 

She added, “Once restrictions eased after the first lockdown, as I don’t live too far from Cambridge, I was driving in and started sculling quite a bit with Carmen. It was so useful, just going through the basics and learning the technique. I’m very grateful that she gave up her time and let me do that over the summer.”

Cambridge women's blue boat celebrate 2024 win
Clare Hole (fourth from left) celebrating at the finish (credit: The Boat Races)

Men’s Lightweight Boat | 29 March 2024

Two St Catharine’s students rowed in the triumphant men’s lightweight boat that finished 5.5 lengths ahead of Oxford. Lewis Gray (a second-year Geography undergraduate) stroked Cambridge to victory for the second consecutive year and Thomas Heppel (a third-year Psychological & Behavioural Sciences undergraduate) was in the 7 seat, having been in the bow seat last year. 

Lewis said, “There was lots of speculation that Oxford were much better than last year and we’d had a mixed season so it was hard to tell who would succeed on the day itself. Along with the other returners, I felt it was important to come back and prove ourselves again. I’m so proud we showed everyone that last year’s victory wasn’t a fluke!”

Thomas added, "On the day the start was completely flat but conditions worsened after Hammersmith Bridge at the beginning of the Surrey bend and we even had to use pumps to get water out of our boat. Conditions didn't flatten out again until the last minute! Unlike many of the other races, we got the better start which we weren't expecting and managed to build on this all the way to the finish, thanks largely to our strong preparations." 

Cambridge men's lightweight boat in the 2024 Lightweight Boat Races
Lewis Gray at stroke and Thomas Heppel behind him in the men's lightweight boat (credit: Benedict Tufnell/Row 360)

Men’s Lightweight Spare Pair | 28 March 2024

William Liu (a final-year Natural Sciences undergraduate) rowed at bow for Cambridge in a 4-length win. Oxford had the better start but Cambridge settled into a stronger rhythm and pulled ahead. 

“It was amazing to start off CUBC’s boat races with a win and set the tone for the races to come. We could see how much it mattered when the men’s squad lined the riverbank on our row back afterwards! This was my first time racing in a pair on the Championship course – in fact, I only learned to steer the Tideway the weekend before! Our race conditions were tough (with water coming into the boat on our pre-paddle and a delayed start) but we managed to pull ahead and settled into a good rhythm.”

Start of the 2024 lightweight men's spare pair boat race
Oxford (right) had the better start but Cambridge (left) went on to win (credit: CUBC)

Men’s Openweight Spare Pair | 28 March 2024

Joe Holey (a Maths PhD student) was at stroke in a dramatic race that ended in another Cambridge win. Despite Oxford enjoying the better start, Cambridge secured a one-length lead just as the red flag was raised to pause the race and give way to an RNLI lifeboat en route to London Bridge. Once the race restarted at Craven Cottage, the crews faced a 500m sprint to the line and Cambridge finished 3 lengths ahead. 

“As there’s no river closure in place for the spares races, we had to contend with other traffic on the Thames. We also had to contend with fierce winds and racing was delayed by a couple of hours to allow the tide to change so the water was less choppy. I’m proud that we didn’t let any of these disruptions affect our performance on the day. 

“As a spare, I needed to be ready to row if the men’s boats needed a substitute, so celebrations were on hold until after the last race on Saturday. There was a great atmosphere at the Boat Race Dinner and it was brilliant to be part of another successful year for CUBC after rowing in the 2023 clean sweep.” 

Cambridge's men's openweight spare pair 2024
Joe Holey at stroke (credit: All Mark One)

A special tribute to Dr Tim Senior

Alumnus Dr Tim Senior (1993, Economics) sadly died in the lead up to the 2023 Boat Race. Tim was serving at the time as Non-Executive Chair of the Boat Race Company Limited (BRCL) Board of Directors after decades of rowing, first at Nottingham University then at Oxford and Cambridge, before his active participation in ‘veteran rowing squads’.

Ahead of this year’s races, BRCL unveiled the Senior Cup, a newly created solid silver trophy that will be presented annually to the winners of the Veterans’ Boat Race as a fitting tribute to Tim’s love for the sport and competition. The Senior Cup was presented for the first time to Oxford on 29 March 2024.