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Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 22:25 GMT 23:25 UK
Man with the Midas touch
Great Britain's winning eight en route to gold at the Sydney Olympics
Mahon was a great influence on the GB eight at Sydney
BBC Sport's Mark Davies pays tribute to Cambridge's late coach Harry Mahon, and examines how the Boat Club has coped with his absence.

With only one defeat since 1993, and a victory last year which left many Dark Blues shaking disbelieving heads and knotting furrowed brows, the pressure is on Cambridge this year.

What is more, it will be the first race since their recent impressive run where they have been without the man many saw as their secret weapon: Harry Mahon.

Mahon was brought into the Cambridge coaching set-up in 1993 when he was in charge of the Swiss national crew.

He died tragically in May last year after a long and brave fight against cancer.


Harry always helped us to move on - that is one of his philosophies that we are carrying forwards
Robin Williams
Mahon watched his last Cambridge crew come back from their defeat the previous year, and was cheered to the rafters at their celebration dinner afterwards.

His overall University record reads eight wins from nine outings.

Robin Williams has been Cambridge's chief coach since the 1995 race and his association with the university's recent success is unquestioned.

But nagging doubts remain in some Light Blue minds that it was always Mahon who provided the Midas touch.

Williams is the first to acknowledge that he learned a lot from Mahon, but understandably deflects suggestions that without him, Cambridge are a spent force.

"There is a lot of Harry's influence left in the club," Williams said.

"We knew him well and worked with him, so to suggest that he is not missed would not do justice to him.

"But Harry always helped us to move on, and that is one of a number of his philosophies that we are carrying forwards."

New faces

The absence of a man whose word many accepted as gospel will be strongly felt.

As a result Cambridge have leant more heavily this year on the services of Tim McLaren, the coach of UTS Haberfield, Sydney, for some outside advice.

They have also drafted in Martin McElroy, who coached the British eight to Olympic success in Sydney, working closely in conjunction with Williams, and Mahon.

The new team may not be proven at a Boat Race, but it clearly has pedigree.

Whether a perceived feeling from the coaches that their credentials are being examined will have any effect on the squad remains to be seen.

With the margin for error reducing every year, tensions within the two camps can play a part, and for some outside observers, Oxford cut a more relaxed figure.

But the key to a Boat Race win is not in the pressures themselves, but how they are handled.

As Mahon might have put it, the only thing that matters is the 20 minutes on the river.

He was a coach after all.


  • The Harry Mahon Cancer Research Trust has been made an official charity of the 2002 Boat Race.

    Harry Mahon Cancer Research Trust, Charities Administration Charities Aid Foundation, King's Hill, West Malling, Kent, ME19 4TA.

  • BBC Sport Online's University Boat Race site

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