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VFEAR 2024

Match Report


Leonie Brunning


2 March 2024


It was a cold and grey London that greeted the Cambridge athletes as they arrived at the Lee Valley Athletes Centre for the annual Varsity Field events and Relays competition. The sombre skies did nothing to dampen the high spirits of the team but were instead a reflection of the steely determination of all individuals set to compete against their Oxford rivals.

The format of the competition requires four athletes per event - with all track events run as relays, and in the field, the best jumps or throws of competitors are added together for each team to determine the winning side. Therefore, this format favours a depth of experience over the strength of individuals. For a Cambridge team beset with last-minute illness and injury, this posed a problem. However, the captains Jess Poon and Jeremy Dempsey worked hard to plug the gaps in the Cambridge team to ensure a full complement of athletes contested each event - with many Cambridge athletes answering the call to throw, jump or run in events in which they had never previously competed. This willingness to step up when it matters and give everything despite the odds is one of the strengths of the Light Blue side.

The first event of the day was the Women's Hammer despite great debut performances in the event by Jemima Bland and Rachel McKinney as well as a PB for Liz Stevenson. It was not enough to counter the experience of the Oxford side. However, Cambridge made a swift comeback in the Men's edition taking the win, with Gabe Lamb throwing an impressive 35.16m. The Women's Javelin followed and despite Leonie Brunning throwing the furthest overall, backed up by a strong performance by her teammates it was not quite enough to match the Oxford side.

Back inside, the Men's High Jump team took the win over Oxford with joint first place shared by the Cambridge athletes Barnaby Corry and John Bennet with a clearance of 1.75m. In the Women's triple jump, squad leader, Eleni Papafilippou achieved an impressive jump of 10.29m for a new PB and half blues standard but the team fell just short of Oxford's total distance. Men's shot put was another closely contested event with the win narrowly going to the dark blues as was the case in the Men's triple jump.

In the first track event of the day, the 60m Hurdles, there were some brilliant runs from the Cambridge athletes in both the women's and men's events - especially from Oli Hector and Anna Schlangenwerth. In many heats the athletes were closely matched crossing the line fractions of seconds apart - as was reflected in overall margins of victories which both fell to the dark blues but by only 0.2secs in the men's edition.

In the Men's Javelin, the Cambridge team fought to stay in touch with the Oxford throwers but the multiple events were beginning to take their toll. In the women's pole vault, a brave clearance by an injured Shani Wright and strong vaulting from Lauren Healy (clearing 2.50m) were not quite enough to match a fully fit Oxford team. Despite brave running from the Cambridge men and women in the 4x800m the dark blue side dominated.

After a tough few hours for the light blue side, the Cambridge men took a victory on the track in the 60m flat, outpacing Oxford in the short sprint. With impressive displays of speed from Chizute Ogbedeh (7.06) and Pelumi Babalola (7.29) who both took the win in their respective heats. In the Women's 60m, there was a fantastic win for Anise Mellodey (8.12) in her heat but Oxford took the overall victory.

The women's discus team (the same quartet who contested Javelin and Hammer) took to the throwing cage for the final time but some big throws in the final round by the Oxford squad snatched victory out of reach. However, the Cambridge men maintained their supremacy in the cage by taking a win in the discus with 3 members of the team throwing over 30m.

Men's 400m relay and women's 400m relay saw the dark blues take victory again - however, there were some fast individual splits for the Cambridge athletes. These races were quickly followed by the 200m relays with many athletes doubling up between these events - it was as much a mental battle as a physical one placing mind over matter around the banked turns of indoor track. Both the men's and women's races were closely fought - the women crossing the line only 0.3 seconds behind and for the men, the gap was even smaller - 0.1 seconds.

As the final events of the day approached the sun finally managed to break through the clouds and with it Cambridge's fortunes changed. A win in the women's shot put was quickly followed by a dominant win in the women's HJ - Annie Durand-Murandi clearing 1.60m to take the event win. There was a strong showing in the Men's pole vault - Barnaby Corry took the event win with a clearance of 4.05m (25cm clear of his next closest competitor), and great vaulting from the rest of the team gave the light blues victory.

In the final field event of the day Cambridge concluded with a dominant display by both the men's and women's Long Jumpers over the Oxford side with PBs for Morgan Treasure (6.59m) and Jane Mills (4.99m, Half Blues). Morgan Treasure and Fred Lui took 1st and 2nd place. It was a 2-3-4 for Jane Mills, Eleni Papafilippou and Olivia Noble respectively on the women's side with consistent strength of performance from the squad securing the win.

The DMR was the final event on the track, the women's team going first, for all athletes it was their last event of a jam-packed day - it proved one race too many despite the shouts of encouragement from their light blue teammates and the fantastic efforts of Jess O’Flaherty, Lucy Randall, Lilian Lewis and Annie Durand-Murandi. As the men's team took to the track they knew it was the last chance of the day to secure a final victory for the Cambridge team, to finish on a high, and they delivered. Strong running from Adam Dray, Jeremy Dempsey, Matthew Dubery and Archie Harper meant they crossed the finish line with clear daylight between themselves and the Oxford team.

As mentioned many athletes competed in several events throughout the day - Jack Lipman (4x200, 4x400, 4x800), Barnaby Corry (HJ, LJ, TJ, PV), and Liz Stevenson (HT, SP, JT, DT)  took on 4 events apiece. Leonie Brunning’s efforts on the day resulted in a unique take on the heptathlon as she competed in HT, JT, 60mH, PV, DT, SP and HJ.

Despite stellar individual performances and the indomitable spirit of the Cambridge team as a whole, it was not enough to secure an overall victory. A well-deserved win for the Cambridge men in the field prevented a clean sweep for the dark blues. With a slow start for the light blue side, the strong mental and physical resilience of the team was rewarded with many victories coming late in the day. The trend of the day may show signs of things to come this year. When winter is finally over along with the illness and injuries that have come with it - Oxford better be ready to face a resurgent Cambridge at the Varsity match this summer.

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