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Last Updated: Friday, 26 March, 2004, 10:33 GMT
Mayer back for more
By Martin Gough

Sebastian Mayer is the most experienced rower in this year's Boat Race, with two Olympic appearances and two World Championships silver medals.

Cambridge coaches help Mayer out of the boat
Mayer had to be helped out of the boat exhausted in 2002
But the 30-year-old German is shunning the spotlight in the run-up to what will be his second Boat Race.

The Cambridge oarsman's only interview in the week prior to the race was with BBC TV, with the proviso that the interviewer only ask him to look forward to this year's race, and not back to his last appearance in 2002.

That year, over seven million people watched on television as Oxford, half a boat length down with five minutes of the race to go, rowed around their rivals on the outside of the final bend to win.

Only those watching carefully would have noticed the reason for Cambridge's late slump - one oar in the middle of the boat was moving out of sync with the others.

Its owner, Mayer, suffered an asthma attack in the final few minutes, a result of complete exhaustion, and ended the race slumped over in utter agony.

It was not just a 20-minute race that had been lost but the six months of intense training for this single event - and not just for Mayer but the other eight members of his crew.

Sebastian Mayer is easily the best person I've ever rowed with
Chris Le Neve Foster
Cambridge oarsman
Perhaps after this year's race is done he will speculate on the cause of his blow-out, but for now Mayer, who took last year off to concentrate on his biology degree, is concentrating on putting things right.

In the motor launches watching training, two former Boat Race competitors and coaches offered different opinions, and freely conceded the other could be correct.

One suggested Mayer's attitude to training was not as serious as it should have been.

The other believed he may just have misjudged how hard he was working and put in too much too soon.

Rowing is filled with fitness tests and performance indicators, many of which are kept closely guarded secrets.

But at this season's British Indoor Championships, Mayer finished third among the current Cambridge crew. Try getting on an indoor rower and covering 2000m in six minutes.

Sebastian Mayer training for this year's race
Sunday 28 March
1800 BST
Live coverage on BBC One
He has also been a vital old head in the Light Blue squad, offering advice to those who were still at school when he was at the Atlanta Olympics.

"Sebastian Mayer is easily the best person I've ever rowed with," says Chris Le Neve Foster, the youngest oarsman in the Cambridge boat.

"He's vastly knowledgeable about how a boat should feel so I'm really lucky to be among guys like that."

In a sport that requires massive motivation, previous missed chances play a large part, especially for a Cambridge squad looking to come back after two of the closest losses in race history in the last two years.

"[Mayer] has got his own reason for coming back and doing this but for everyone in the crew there is a private story and I don't think Seb is unique," coach Robin Williams told BBC Sport.

"Before he came back we had a discussion. I wanted to make sure he was coming at it for the right reasons and he wanted to make sure I would be happy for him to do that.

"We discussed it, we were both happy and we haven't really looked back since."

All eyes, both light and dark blue, are firmly fixed on Sunday evening, when another neck-and-neck battle is predicted from Putney to Mortlake.

Perhaps if Cambridge, considered by some a slight underdog, manage to overcome two years of Oxford dominance, Mayer will be able to have the last word.

As he made his final preparations he said simply: "I will talk afterwards, hopefully when we win."

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