MORTLAKE, England - The Boat Race, one of England's most historic sporting fixtures, was brought to a standstill on Saturday when a protester jumped into the River Thames and narrowly avoided being struck by the oars of the Oxford and Cambridge crews.
Race umpire John Garrett halted the race around 2 1/2 miles into the 4 1/4-mile course in front of thousands of shocked spectators along the river banks in southwest London, before the swimmer — who was wearing a wetsuit — was collected by a police boat and arrested on suspicion of a public order offence.
"They almost took his head off," said Sergeant Chris Tranter of the Metropolitan Police.
After the race was restarted 31 minutes later halfway along the course, Oxford's German rower Hanno Wienhausen lost half of his oar after the crews clashed — allowing Cambridge to cruise to victory over effectively seven oarsmen. A margin of victory wasn't given by officials.
To add to the drama, Oxford bow man Alexander Woods was taken to nearby Charing Cross Hospital after appearing to collapse after the race. Paramedics later said Woods was in a stable condition but would be kept at the hospital for monitoring.
The reason for his collapse remains unknown.
"This really was the product of the most extraordinary and unfortunate chain of events that have conspired against us," said Oxford coach Sean Bowden.
Assistant umpire Matthew Pinsent, a winner of four Olympic gold medals, was credited with spotting the intruder, avoiding a potential disaster with the two crews heading straight for him.
The man ducked his head under the water — narrowly missing the oars of the Oxford crew, which was just ahead at the time.
"I saw a head," Cambridge's American oarsman Steve Dudek said. "I looked over and thought they had lost a guy (out of the Oxford boat)."
The man resurfaced, with a big smile across his face, and was led away once on dry land wrapped in a red blanket.
Trenton Oldfield claimed responsibility for the stunt on a blog entitled Elitism Leads To Tyranny.
"Officers from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Marine Policing Unit (MPU) attended and took the man back to the riverside where he was arrested for a section 5 public order offence," a statement from Scotland Yard read. "He has been taken into custody at a west London police station."
In utter confusion, the two crews floated idly, not knowing whether the race would be re-rowed from the start, abandoned altogether or simply that the crews would continue from where the incident occurred.
At the end of the race, Zoe De Toledo — Oxford's first female cox in 12 years — appealed for the race to be rerun because there was too much wash on the course after the postponement. Her appeal was turned down by Garrett, who said Oxford was to blame for the clash and had to bear the consequences.
The trophy presentation was delayed while doctors attended to Woods, a 27-year-old studying medicine and in his 10th year at Oxford.
"I guess you can only imagine the desperation that Alex must have been in ... that's probably how he ended up pushing himself beyond his limits," Bowden said.
Garrett said Woods was receiving "the best possible medical care."
"At this time, Boat Race Company Limited's concern is for Alex's well-being," organizers said. "Alex's family are with him."
Cambridge rowing president Nelson said all the events had taken the gloss off the victory.
"With all the hoohah and the restart and the clash it was a pretty dramatic race," Nelson said. "We're more worried about the Oxford guys right now and we'll reflect later on what's gone on."
The fact that Cambridge extended its lead in the overall series to 81-76 was lost in all the drama of an eventful 158th edition of the race, which dates back to 1829 and is broadcast live or in highlights in an estimated 200 countries.
The last time the race had to be restarted was in 2001 when there was a clash of blades and an oar was lost by one of the crews.