A Race for History: Perspectives from CUWBC President Esther Momcilovic

Gabrielle Peterson 27 March 2014

On Sunday, for the last time, the Women’s Boat Race between Cambridge and Oxford Universities will take place over the Henley Reach on the River Thames. Next year, the race will move to the Tideway and will be held on the same day as the Men’s race. 

This week, Esther Momcilovic, president of the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, reflected on what it means to be in the last women’s race at Henley, which has been the tradition since the 1970s.

“On the one hand, being part of such an historic race is a huge honor,” Momcilovic said. “On the other hand, the race is just as important as any other year. You pour your heart and soul into seven months of training for one race, and it’s the most important race of your life, whether you’re in the lightweights, the reserves, or the Blue boat. Whether it’s a significant year or not – the race means everything to you in that moment.”

The grueling training schedule, including two outings a day, has been designed to ensure the crew reaches peak physical condition on race day.“At 3 p.m. on Sunday, we will be ready – mind and body,” said Momcilovic.

Flooding has been a problem along the Thames this year, but Momcilovic says it’s not expected to affect Sunday’s race. “The river actually isn’t flooded anymore, though the stream is fairly fast,” Momcilovic said. “It hasn’t affected our training as we were based at Ely until two weeks ago, then in Nottingham before we came to Henley. This week is just about getting used to the stream and how it changes along the course, and how we need to optimize our rowing stroke to get the fastest boat speed possible out of the conditions.”

How is the Cambridge crew dealing with pre-race jitters?

“Some people like to chill out and chat with their crewmates, others prefer to be alone and listen to music,” Momcilovic said. “Personally, I like to relax and chat to the crew, maybe run over the race plan in my head a couple of times, but by and large, by that point, it’s all ingrained and it’s just a question of killing the time until we get in the boat.”

Focus, Momcilovic says, is the key to winning.

“It’s about focus – keeping it internal, trusting in your rhythm and your race plan, and not being afraid to push yourself to the limit and keep looking for more.” Cambridge leads the rivalry with 40 wins compared to Oxford’s 27. But Oxford has won five of the last six races, including last year’s race. The pressure is on to reverse the trend.

“Having won one and lost one, obviously I want to end on a positive margin,” Momcilovic said. “But going into this race, those results are irrelevant. They’re in the past, and this is now, and about doing everything we can to beat Oxford on this day, irrespective of what has gone before.”

The Women’s Boat Race will take place at Henley on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Other races set for Sunday at Henley, beginning at 1:15 p.m., include the intercollegiate women’s race, intercollegiate men’s race, Women’s Reserves (Osiris v. Blondie), Lightweight Women’s Boat Race and the Lightweight Men’s Boat Race.

TCS will be live tweeting all the races on Sunday; follow us @TCSNewspaper. Further coverage of the races will be available courtesy of CamFM through www.henleyboatraces.com.