Boat Race 2013: Umpire Matthew Pinsent hopes for low profile

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Pinsent to make refereeing debut

The Boat Race

Date:
Sunday, 31 March
Start time:
16:30 BST
Coverage:
BBC One, BBC Sport website and mobiles 1515-1715 BST; BBC Radio 5 live 1600-1730; live text commentary online

Matthew Pinsent might well be the only person on or near the River Thames on Sunday keeping his fingers crossed for an afternoon free of drama.

The four-time Olympic champion and former Oxford Blue will take charge of proceedings as umpire of the Boat Race for the first time, having had the assistant's role last year.

And the 158th Boat Race turned out to be among the more memorable after

Umpire John Garrett had to react immediately in front of an audience of millions, giving his assistant the ultimate training for the taking the top job this year.

"I was standing behind him and he was saying straight away, 'Let's stop the race'," Pinsent told BBC Sport.

"I'd swapped flags with him and was in charge at that moment, scrabbling around in the bottom of the boat to give him the red flag. It was messy last year but that's the Boat Race, it can happen."

Race director David Searle said last month that additional safety measures will be introduced this year, but Pinsent's focus is very much on what happens between the two boats.

And while pointing out that there is not a huge amount of swotting up required - "there are only 10 rules" - he admits to a few nerves.

"Security measures are not really my responsibility but it's a really complicated event, and trying to predict everything that will happen is really difficult for the crews just as it is for the umpire," he said.

"You've just got to try to do the best job that you can, really. I'll be nervous about it; it's a big responsibility and a big event.

"I don't necessarily want to see a particularly close race. I'd want to see a very one-sided race that's simple to umpire, but that may not happen. I think it might be quite close."

Last year's race also saw a clash of oars immediately after the restart, which allowed Cambridge to win easily after Oxford broke an oar.

"The balance of power between the crews and the umpire is very important," said Pinsent.

"As an oarsman I would always be disappointed if the cox didn't push right up to the very edge of the laws and rules of the race; as an umpire I'm fine with that, as long as they don't go an inch over."

The link between the Boat Race and the Olympic Games is strong, with 13 current or former Blues having competed in London last year, but the four-time gold medallist says the two hardly compare.

"The Olympics will always be more important than the Boat Race," said Pinsent.

"The Boat Race is different because of the tactics, the coxing, the river, it's two boats, it's Oxford and Cambridge. It's different.

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Cambridge win Boat Race after restart

"But it's the most important thing they will have in their university years, racing for the pride of their university and all the history. They will put their sporting lives on the line for the guys around them."

Pinsent knows as well as anyone what goes into performing in the Boat Race, having won with Oxford in 1990 and 1991 but losing in 1993, and is hopeful that six months of preparation will not go to waste.

"Last year was just chaotic for the guys involved in the race - a boat race has seldom been stopped before - so the umpire needs the ability to deal with that decision making and get the race restarted again.

"It's quite a complicated event because you've got all these outside influences and that was proved last year.

"I think the chance of something untoward happening is pretty low - that was a unique occurrence and obviously ruined the race for the crews involved and the impartial observers, so we'll be hoping nothing like that happens again."

Pinsent will get out on the water with both crews in the days before the race and also go through a briefing with them, before the veterans Boat Race and rehearsal on Saturday.

And after all the preparation, come race day on Sunday he will be hoping to cause not so much as a ripple that would detract from the 16 men doing battle ahead of him.

"I'll be looking to get to the finish and then slip off into crowd without any camera picking me out, without any interviews, and then off home," he said.

"That's the sort of ideal, that the umpire has nothing to do with the result. That's perfection."

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