Cambridge hoping to regain Boat Race brag rights

LONDON (AP) Cambridge is counting on its smallest crew member to make the most of its weight advantage against Oxford on Sunday in the annual Boat Race.

At 5-foot-8, Ian Middleton does not stand out from other coxes by his physical characteristics. Small and light, he has been nicknamed ”Littleton,” but the Cambridge crew is hopeful his impact on the 160th edition of the race will be massive.

”He is 18 going on 30,” Cambridge president Steve Dudek said. ”He is one of the rare coxes that I’ve met who is quietly confident in what he is doing. He feels no need to assert himself unnecessarily, which is a very, very big strength.”

Middleton – the youngest member of the crew – has already tasted global competition, guiding Britain’s eight to fourth place at the 2013 Junior World Championships. Despite his young age, he is widely praised for his leadership.

”He has earned the trust and respect from the guys in the crew, which is really crucial,” Dudek said. ”He is a cool customer. It’s almost unnerving just how unflappable the kid is.”

Cambridge coach Steve Trapmore said the geography student came through trials with two other coxes to sit in the race.

”Ian really, really stepped forward, showing a significant amount of class we knew he had,” he said. ”He is kind of an extension of what I am but in the boat.”

The Light Blues, who lost by a length-and-a-half last year, have height and weight on their side this time. Of the 68 races since World War II, the heavier and taller crew has the majority of wins.

However, Trapmore downplayed the weight advantage of about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) over the 6,800-meter (four-mile) River Thames course.

”It’s not a huge difference,” he said. ”They’ve got to pull the weight that they have and they’ve got to go fast with it.”

Oxford will bet on experience in the defense of its title. It features three Olympic medalists: Club president Malcolm Howard of Canada won gold in Beijing and silver in London, Storm Uru of New Zealand is a world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, and Constantine Louloudis at stroke won bronze in London.

”We have guys who are technically better this year,” Howard said. ”It would take a truly special crew to beat us.”

Louloudis is bidding for a hat trick of victories with Oxford after winning in 2011 and 2013, taking a break in 2012 to focus on the Olympics. Oxford can also count on Karl Hudspith and Michael Di Santo, who have rowed for Britain and the United States, respectively, at international level. The Dark Blues will put out three Britons, three Canadians, two New Zealanders and an American.

Cambridge has four Americans, three Brits, an Australian and a German. This is only the fifth time in the history of the race that four Americans are in one crew, with Dudek joined in the Light Blues’ boat by Henry Hoffstot, Matthew Jackson and Luke Juckett.

Cambridge leads the series 81-77, with one tie. Cambridge last won in 2012, when a protester swam into Oxford’s path, forcing the race to be halted.