Olympian Malcolm Howard makes it back-to-back Boat Race titles

Two-time Olympic medallist Malcolm Howard of Victoria and Tom Watson, who rowed four years for the University of Victoria Vikes, revelled in being part of Oxford’s emphatic victory Sunday in the 160th Boat Race.

“Ours was a really good, sharp crew, and we knew they [Cambridge] would take a risk against us,” said Oxford Boat Club president Howard, by phone from England after the Dark Blues defeated Cambridge by a whopping 11 lengths in the largest margin of victory since 1973.

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A crowd estimated up to 250,000 lined the 6.8-kilometre Thames course, from Putney to Mortlake, and a BBC audience of millions watched on TV as Cambridge took it out hard early. Too hard, as they almost crashed into the Oxford boat after one of the Cambridge crew members fell out of his seat and almost into the river.

“Clashes are a part of the Boat Race. They do happen … it doesn’t change what we accomplished,” said Howard, Olympic gold- and silver-medallist with the Elk Lake-based Canadian eight at Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

“We withstood Cambridge’s early push. That’s because of the strength and ability of our crew.”

This is the second Boat Race victory in as many years for the six-foot-seven Howard, a graduate of Brentwood College in Mill Bay and Harvard, who is conducing medical clinical research in genetics at Oriel College, Oxford.

“We had four of last year’s crew returning and we knew we were poised to do it even better than we did last year,” said Howard, who returns to Victoria in September after two years at Oxford, and hasn’t ruled out going for a third Olympic medal at Rio 2016 before embarking on his medical career.

Howard, 31, is also stretching out in other ways. He and wife Erika, a former national team rhythmic gymnast and Commonwealth Games medallist, had their first child seven weeks ago — a son they named Gavin.

Howard was happiest for Watson. During his UVic rowing years, Watson won the Provost Award for achieving the highest grade-point average of any Vikes athlete in any sport. The 25-year-old began rowing in his native Winnipeg and said he chose UVic because of its reputation in that sport. Watson is taking his PhD in ophthalmology at Oxford and finally won a spot on the Dark Blues after rowing the previous three years for the Oxford ‘B’ team. In a bit of a twist to the story, his parents met while attending Cambridge.

“It’s great to see Tom Watson win the Boat Race . . . he has to fight for every seat he gets,” said Howard.

“Tom is on the lighter side but he held his own weight and was impressive.”

Cambridge leads the Boat Race series 81-78 with Islanders having played significant roles in that history. Kip McDaniel of Cobble Hill rowed for Cambridge in 2006. Champion Wayne Pommen of Victoria, the Cambridge Boat Club president of the 2004 winning team, was a commentator as part of BBC’s coverage Sunday.

Olympic silver-medallist Barney Williams of Victoria was Oxford Boat Club president and won two Boat Race titles as an Oxford business major in 2005 and 2006. Williams, UVic assistant coach, was in London on Sunday for the veterans race and reminded Watson of their time together on Elk Lake.

“Barney and I talked about all those early mornings on the lake and how that effort was rewarded,” said Watson.

“It hasn’t quite sunk in, yet. It’s surreal. It rounds off what has been an amazing experience at Oxford.”

Last week, Oxford masters student in history, Liz Fenje of Victoria, helped row Oxford to a four-length victory over Cambridge in the women’s Boat Race along the Thames.

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