The Boat Race
Learn more about The Boat Race
The Boat Race is a rowing race between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club. It is rowed annually each Spring on the Thames in London. The event is a popular one, not only with the alumni of the universities, but also with rowers in general and the public. An estimated quarter of a million people watch the race live from the banks of the river, and 2004's television audience of more than a half billion viewers makes the race one of the most watched sports events in the world, and almost certainly the most watched amateur sporting event in the world.<ref>The Olympic Games has a much larger global TV audience (3.9 billion in 2004 according to the Beijing 2008 website ) However, despite its tradition of amateurism, as of 2004 only boxing remained a completely amateur event.</ref> The first race was in 1829 and it has been held annually since 1856, with the exception of the two world wars.
Members of both teams are traditionally known as blues and each boat as a "Blue Boat", with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford dark blue.
 The course
The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6,779 m) from Putney to Mortlake, passing Barnes and Hammersmith; it is sometimes referred to as the Championship Course. The race is for heavyweight eights (i.e., for eight rowers with a cox steering, and no restrictions on weight). The race is rowed up stream, but is timed to start about an hour before high-water on the incoming flood tide. The net effect is that the water is still moving up stream, with the crews . This affects the lines that the coxswains take for the fastest course. The course for the main part of the races' history has been from Putney to Mortlake, but there have been a few other courses:
- 1829 — At Henley-on-Thames
- 1839 to 1842 — Westminster to Putney
- 1846, 1856, 1862, 1863 — Mortlake to Putney
In addition, there were four unofficial boat races held during World War II away from London — 1940 (Henley-on-Thames), 1943 (Sandford-on-Thames), 1944 (River Great Ouse, Ely), and 1945. As none of those competing were awarded blues, these races are not included in the official list.
The tradition was started by Charles Merivale, a student at Cambridge, and his schoolfriend Charles Wordsworth who was at Oxford. Cambridge challenged Oxford to a race, and the challenge was repeated the next year. The tradition continues, with the loser challenging the winner to a re-match annually.
The race in 1877 was declared a dead heat. Legend in Oxford has it that the judge, "Honest John" Phelps, was asleep under a bush as the crews came by leading him to announce the result as a "dead heat to Oxford by four feet", but this is not borne out by contemporary reports. The Times said:
- "Oxford, partially disabled, were making effort after effort to hold their rapidly waning lead, while Cambridge, who, curiously enough, had settled together again, and were rowing almost as one man, were putting on a magnificent spurt at 40 strokes to the minute, with a view of catching their opponents before reaching the winning-post. Thus struggling over the remaining portion of the course, the two eights raced past the flag alongside one another, and the gun fired amid a scene of excitement rarely equalled and never exceeded. Cheers for one crew were succeeded by counter-cheers for the other, and it was impossible to tell what the result was until the Press boat backed down to the Judge and inquired the issue. John Phelps, the waterman, who officiated, replied that the noses of the boats passed the post strictly level, and that the result was a dead heat."
Though the contest is strictly speaking between amateurs and indeed the competitors must be students of the university for whom they race, the training schedules each team undertakes are very gruelling. Typically each team trains for six days a week for six months before the event. Such is the competitive spirit between the universities it is common for Olympic standard rowers to compete, notably including four times Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent who rowed for Oxford in 1990, 1991, and 1993. Olympic Gold medallists from the 2000 Olympic games Tim Foster (Oxford 1997), Luka Grubor, and Kieran West (Cambridge 1999, 2001, 2006) have also raced for their university. This has led to unproven accusations that these students are admitted entrance to university not because of their academic ability but rather their rowing skill. Recent evidence suggests that this is not the case. The 2005 Cambridge crew, for example, contained four Ph.D. students, including a fully qualified medical doctor and a veterinarian. Such accusations are likely to continue to be raised, however.
In 1987, a disagreement arose amongst the Oxford team which became known as the "Oxford mutiny". A group of talented American oarsmen were enrolled at Oxford and were prepared to compete in the race. But they became embroiled in a conflict with the team president who wanted to place himself in the boat over more qualified, internationally seasoned oarsmen. This eventually led the Americans to protest what they perceived to be the president's abuse of power by withdrawing en mass six weeks before the race was due to start. As Gavin Stewart, the stroke and mainstay of the winning Oxford eight, stated:
- "As for the Americans starting the 'mutiny', well they didn't. The 'mutiny' happened because the squad had lost respect for Donald Macdonald as president, not least because he made it clear that he had a guaranteed seat... The spark was the decision to set aside the result of a trial between Donald and one of the Americans (which Donald lost), giving them both seats and dropping another (British) rower. The Americans began by supporting British rowers, not the other way round."
To the surprise of many, Oxford, with a crew partially composed of oarsmen from the reserve team, went on to win the race.
Recent years have seen especially dramatic races. In 2002, the favoured Cambridge crew led with only a few hundred metres to go, when a Cambridge oarsman collapsed from exhaustion and Oxford rowed through to win by three-quarters of a length. They did so on the outside of the last riverbend, a feat last accomplished in 1952. Few observers expected the 2003 race to match the 2002 for excitement. Cambridge were substantially heavier and appeared to be the favourites. Two days prior to the race, however, the Cambridge crew suffered a collision on the river in which oarsman Wayne Pommen was injured. With a replacement in Pommen's seat, Cambridge went on to lose to a determined Oxford crew by a record slim margin of one foot. In that year, there were 2 sets of brothers rowing; Matt Smith and David Livingston for Oxford and James Livingston and Ben Smith for Cambridge. Cambridge gained revenge in 2004 in a race marred by dramatic clashes of oars in the early stages, and the unseating of Oxford's bowman.
The most recent race in 2006 was won by Oxford, with some attributing their victory to a pump that was getting rid of excess water from their boat. However, this is not against the rules, and it remains unclear as to why Cambridge did not also use a pump.
Although the heavyweight men's eights are the main draw, the two universities compete in other rowing boat races. The main boat race is preceded by a race between the two reserve crews (called "Isis" for Oxford and "Goldie" for Cambridge).
The women's eights, women's reserve eights, men's lightweight eights, men's lightweight reserve eights, and women's lightweight eights race in the Henley Boat Races on a different day.
The event is now a British national institution, and is televised live each year. As of the 2005 race, the BBC handed over broadcasting rights to ITV, after 66 years. The current score in all races is Cambridge 78 wins, Oxford 73, and one dead heat.
Training for the boat race officially begins in September, before the start of term. The first tests are in November at the British Indoor Rowing Championships where each university sends around 20 rowers to compete. Everyone races 2 km on an indoor rower with the club presidents using adjacent machines. Both universities also send crews to the Fours Head race in London which is raced over the Boat Race course in reverse.
In December, the coaches put out Trial Eights where two crews from the same university race each other over the full boat race course. These crews are given names such as Kara and Whakamanawa (Māori words for strength and honour, Cambridge 2004) or Cowboys and Indians (Oxford 2004).
Over the Christmas period the squads go on training camps abroad, where final places for the blue boats are decided. After the final blue boat crews have been decided they race against the top crews from the UK and abroad (e.g. in recent years they have raced Leander, Molesey, and the German international crew). These races are only over part of the course (from Putney to Chiswick Eyot).
In case of injury or illness, each university has ten extra rowers, eight in the reserves boats (called Isis at Oxford and Goldie at Cambridge) and two as the spare pair. Isis and Goldie boats race 30 mins before the Blue Boat event over the same course. As for the spare pair, in the week before the main event they race each other from the mile post to university stone (1 mile long). In the final week, there is also an official weigh in and the average crew weights announced.
- "I can't see who's in the lead but it's either Oxford or Cambridge." — John Snagge (BBC radio commentator).
- "Boat race" became such a popular phrase that it was incorporated into Cockney rhyming slang, for "face".
- In the arms of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, which covers much of the course, two griffin supporters hold oars, one light blue, one dark, in reference to the Boat Race. These colours are highly unusual in English heraldry.
- The first female to take part in the race was Susan Brown, who coxed for Oxford in 1981.
- Famous participants in the race include George Mallory (Cambridge 1906,1907,1908), Andrew Irvine (Oxford 1923), Lord Snowdon (Cambridge 1950), David Rendel (Oxford 1974), Colin Moynihan (Oxford 1977), and Hugh Laurie (Cambridge 1980).
- One entertainment for spectators is the possibility of a boat sinking. This happened to Cambridge in 1859 and 1978, and to Oxford in 1925 and 1951. Both boats sank in 1912, and the race was re-run, and in 1984, Cambridge sank after crashing into a stationary barge before the race had started.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Cambridge's sinking in 1978 was named in 79th place on Channel 4's list of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments.
- At Putney, Oxford boats from Westminster School Boat Club, and Cambridge from King's College School Boat Club.
- The Queen's-McGill Challenge Boat Race was modelled after the Oxbridge Boat Race, and is considered the Canadian equivalent (although it has not yet reached the same level of prominence).
- Cambridge: 78 wins
- Oxford: 73 wins
- Dead heats: 1
 Unofficial wartime races
|1944||River Great Ouse, Ely||Oxford|
- Course Record: Cambridge 1998, 16 min 19 s
- Heaviest rower: Christopher Heathcote, Oxford 1990, 17 st 5 lb (110 kg; 243 lb)
- Lightest rower: Alfred Higgins, Oxford 1882, 9 st 6.5 lb (60.1 kg; 132.5 lb)
- Heaviest crew: Oxford 2005, 15 st 6 lb (98 kg; 216 lb) average
- Tallest rower: Josh West, Cambridge 1999/2000/2001/2002, 6 ft 9.5 in (2.07 m)
- Tallest crew: Cambridge 1999, 6 ft 6.3 in (1.98 m) average
 See also
 External links
 Notes and references