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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 17:35 GMT
Oxford lag in practice
BBC Sport's Mark Davies watches the teams in practice
There has been talk of the crews being evenly matched
BBC Sport's Mark Davies, Cambridge cox between 1992 and 1995, watches the old rivals complete their practice starts as both crews make final preparations for the Boat Race.

Indications were that Oxford will have their work cut out this weekend.

On fast-flowing water there is every chance, if current conditions persist, that the record will go on Saturday.

Both crews did a number of starts off the stakeboats, which the umpire Simon Harris had earlier carefully placed with the help of some oranges he picked up at the local supermarket.

Harris used the oranges to check the speed of the stream as it came off Putney Bridge - playing a sort of sophisticated version of Poohsticks - to ensure that the two stations are equally matched.

Oxford were the first to go and had three practices - the first from Surrey and the next two from the Middlesex station.

Cambrdige are slight favourites for Saturday's race
Cambrdige are slight favourites for Saturday's race
In each, they had good control in the opening strokes, and picked up to a rate of around 44 strokes a minute.

But the feeling persists in their paddling that they are slightly shorter than Cambridge - an impression which is emphasized by the punchiness of their style.

Cambridge, in contrast, look longer, more fluent and better connected.

They seem to 'pick up' the water more quickly at the start of the stroke and, as a result, they also appear more powerful.

On their third start they clocked 52 strokes a minute in the opening 10, which was impressive.

Rowing alongside Goldie, their reserve crew, they were very quick off the mark.

Although strokeman Rick Dunn slightly pre-empted the umpire's flag in classic pre-race gamesmanship, the boat had moved out to just more than a length's advantage by the end of the 30-stroke practice piece.

Both crews 'level'

There has been a lot of talk this week about the crews being very evenly-matched, but on the evidence of Thursday's outings, this race is Cambridge's to throw away.

Clearly, Oxford are likely to hang on for a while - they have power, and their determination will match their terrier-like style.

But technically, they do not look as if they have the means to win it.

The bookmakers are quoting the two crews level, but there is no doubt from this display in practice that Cambridge will be the crew to beat on Saturday.

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