The Varsity Sports
HE fact that the University Sports take place on March 26th is one that leaves too large a part of the world in a state of almost complete placidity. Amongst those who were themselves at Oxford or Cambridge the Rugby match is now, amongst all the annual combats, almost certainly the one that arouses the most frenzied feelings. With the general public, which follows Mr. Pickwick's advice as to shouting with the largest crowd, and decks itself, its children and its horses with dark and light blue rosettes according to which side is the favourite in the betting, the Boat Race still holds its traditional place.
The Cricket Match, coming at the pleasantest season of the year and amid the pleasantest surroundings, is safe upon its particular throne. With none of these three can the Sports quite claim an equality. It is at least doubtful if they stand where they did. Those who were running in the 'eighties and early 'nineties tell regretfully how the sports at . either Oxford or Cambridge—mere preliminary skirmishes before the battle—occupied three columns in the sporting papers. That splendour has departed ; the meeting at Queen's to-day gets barely more than a column. Even the resounding roll of Cam- bridge champions since the War—Abrahams, Stallard, Lowe, Mountain, Butler, Seagrove, Burleigh, Rinkel --does not overmuch stir the general pulse, and the people to be met at the Sports are for the most part those who have themselves fought there in earlier years, not without some glory. Yet there are at any rate a few others, having no such claims to fame, amongst whom I number myself, who look forward to the Sports every year with something like a passion of excitement and regard them as the most heart-stirring and the most romantic of all those occasions on which it is permissible, just for one crowded hour, openly to hate the other side.
Admittedly the Sports are one of those institutions which must be judged at their best. They have--Who can deny it ?—intervals of supreme dullness, which are if possible intensified by a bitter March wind. With the Weight going on in one corner and the High Jump Hi another, even the band playing vigorously in the middle of the ground cannot always make existence bearable. Of course, even in these " field " events there are great 'moments. When a Fry or an Ashington or an Abrahams soars high into the air, and there is a breathless hush while the jump is being measured, life is worth living. There can be an agonizing pleasure in waiting while the high jumper, the last hope of his side, is having-his legs rubbed before he makes his last attempt at the height that has twice beaten him. But these moments are rare.
So, for the average onlooker, it is by the races that the Sports must stand or fall, and each of them has its peculiar thrill. The Hundred, though often intensely important, is over in a flash before we have had time to enjoy our own emotions in the watching of it. To extract from it the full measure of sensual pleasure we should be close to the track,. so that we can hear the thunder of the four runners and feel the track shake under it. Even so it leaves us a little disappointed. The Hurdles is a beautiful race ; yet there is about it something artificial, something of elegant trickery which is not wholly satis- fying. The Three Miles, with its pattering of little men round and- round and round, lulls its for a while into a state of coma. We know, that of those six runners there are only two that matter. Those who have red or yellow armlets are but cannon fodder ; they are only being butchered in the interests of their first strings ; we feel rather sorry for them, but they cannot really stir us. From this apathy we do not wholly awake till but a lap or two remain, and then indeed things can be horribly exciting. No Cambridge man that was present can ever forget the agony of the Three Miles of some two or three years back, when their champion Starr was misinformed as to the number of laps remaining, made his effort, came away from his man and then, when expecting to see the tape and welcoming arms and hear the cheers of victory, realized too late that he had run himself out one whole lap too soon.
There can, I imagine, be no doubt that if a popular vote were taken as to the greatest race the Quarter would easily win first place. It has all the dramatic elements. There is the rush of tremendous speed which seems at the outset almoSt as thunderous as that of the Hundred, and yet there is time enough for many things to happen and for a great lead to be cut down by a great spurt. There is much scope too for manoeuvring, as witness last year's race in which Harrison and Rinkel got first to the first. corner and moved round the inside of the track like a solid wall, effectually shutting out their enemy, until the time came for Harrison to die away and Rinkel to go on and win. Finally there is the rather gladiatorial satis- faction of seeing men run themselves right out to the very last inch, of which the Quarter is at least as richly productive as any other race. No other race has pro- duced so many names that are, to those who love such things, household words. Those whose memories go back to the heroic age talk of Macaulay ; a rather younger generation saw Tindall in his pride; the more or less middle- aged amongst us can boast that we saw Jordan and Fitzherbert, who ran four times against each other and ended theirimmortal match all square; to the youngest the names of Rudd and Butler must sound stirring. Yet for my own private gloating I would personally choose no quarter nor yet any mile; though as a schoolboy I saw the great Lnt3;'ens win his first mile for 'Cambridge—an unfading memory. I would choose the Half-mile in the last year before the War, in which Atkinson, looking like a dead man, unbelievably shook off the American Taber at the last corner, staggered away from him down the straight and beat his illustrious and Olympic head off. To the romantic idiot such as I avow myself, many races come near to tears, but none ever :came so near as that. In re-reading what I have written I cannot help seeing that all the races that I remember best are thoie that Cambridge have won. I can only plead that this is an amiable weakness; and if • somebody else prefers to re- member Cross- and- Cornwallis and, Henderson-Hamilton 1.‘vill not only'listen-to him patiently, but will even try