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Losing Boat Race team complains about ‘poo in the water’ after ‘E. coli outbreak’

A rower on the Oxford team which lost the Boat Race on Saturday has complained about “poo in the water” and claimed that sickness caused by an outbreak of E. coli played a part in their defeat.

There were warnings this week before the Boat Race about pollution levels in the River Thames and the possible risk to competitors.

But the historic race went ahead, and both the men’s and women’s races were won by the University of Cambridge on Saturday afternoon.

Afterwards, the University of Oxford’s Leonard Jenkins told the BBC his team “had a few guys go down pretty badly with E. coli, this morning, I was throwing up, I was not sure there would be a chance for me to be in the boat”.

He added: “But I kept that quiet and that is on my shoulders. I’m not sure if it was the right choice because I don’t feel I had much to give.

“It would be a lot nicer if there wasn’t as much poo in the water.

“It’s not to take away from Cambridge, as we may not have beaten them even if we were all on top form.”

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The Cambridge team in the lead towards Chiswick Bridge during the 169th Men's Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames, London. Picture date: Saturday March 30, 2024. PA Photo. See PA story ROWING Boat Race. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire...RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.
Image: The Cambridge team in the lead towards Chiswick Bridge. Pic: PA
The Cambridge Men's team cross the finish line to win the 169th Men's Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames, London. Picture date: Saturday March 30, 2024.
Image: The Cambridge men’s team cross the finish line. Pic: PA
Cambridge Men's and Women's teams celebrate with the trophies after the Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames, London. Picture date: Saturday March 30, 2024.
Image: Cambridge’s men’s and women’s teams celebrate their Boat Race wins. Pic: PA

However, Mr Jenkins’ team-mate Will Denegri was more reluctant to blame team illnesses and water conditions for their loss.

He said: “This week we’ve had three people who have had to miss sessions because they’ve had stomach bugs, essentially.

“Whether that’s related to E. coli in the river I don’t know, but it’s certainly not helped our campaign, and it’s a poor excuse.

“It’s not an excuse, but it definitely hasn’t helped our preparation.”

‘National disgrace’

Earlier this week, it was revealed that high levels of E. coli, which can cause a range of serious infections and other side-effects, had been found along the Boat Race course.

Oxford’s coach Sean Bowden called it a “national disgrace”.

Campaigning group River Action said its testing suggested the source of pollution is from Thames Water discharging sewage directly into the river and its tributaries.

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Rowers were told not to enter or swallow the water, as well as to take other preventative measures, such as covering up scrapes with waterproof plasters.

Heeding the warnings, the winning Cambridge women’s team lifted their cox Hannah Murphy up inside the boat, rather than throwing her into the water, as is traditional.

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Cambridge Women's President Jenna Armstrong and Cambridge Men's President Sebastian Benzecry celebrate with the trophies after the Gemini Boat Race 2024 on the River Thames, London. Picture date: Saturday March 30, 2024.
Image: Cambridge women’s president Jenna Armstrong and men’s president Sebastian Benzecry celebrate with the trophies. Pic: PA

Cambridge extended their dominant run in both the men’s and women’s versions of the annual event, despite Oxford’s crews starting as favourites.

The men claimed a fifth trophy in six years, while the women cruised to a seventh win in a row.

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