The run-up to the 160th Boat Race

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With the Newton Women’s Boat  Race in less than three weeks, and the BNY Mellon Men’s Boat Race just twenty-seven days away, Monday's crew announcements and weigh-ins are one of the last steps on what has been a long, physically demanding and time consuming nine-month journey to the 160th annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge.

The Light Blues have both weighed in heavier this year, with the heavier crew winning nine of the last twelve races over the four miles and 374 yards course along the Thames. Cambridge men still lead the overall head-to-head 81-77, as well as having the longest unbeaten run of thirteen years between 1924 and 1936 and the course record of 16 minutes and 19 seconds, set in 1998, but Oxford are seeking to defend their victory from 2013 with three Olympians in the men’s Dark Blue boat. That is not to say that Cambridge are inexperienced though, with fresher Cox Ian Middleton,who describes himself as “small and sarcastic”, having coxed the GB Eight at the junior world championships in 2013 and their President Steve Dudek rowing in his third Varsity race.

The road to the race has not been without its problems, with both universities being plagued by weather problems, although Cambridge has been less badly affected. The Isis in Oxford has been under a red flag for the last eighty days, meaning that training on the river has been seriously restricted, with Sean Bowden, Oxford’s chief coach admitting that “it’s been a challenge … we’re probably a little behind in some areas” and their chief women’s coach describing a memorable day when “fish were swimming in the boat bays” inside the boathouse.

In a significant move towards equal representation for men’s and women’s sports, from 2015, the women’s boat race will be held on the same day as the men’s, following the same course and being given the same level of media coverage from the BBC. Olympic gold medal winner and Boat Race Ambassador for 2014 Anna Watkins MBE said of this change: “I’m so excited; it needed to happen at some point (and) it seemed so far-fetched when I was at university, now it’s more like ‘why wasn’t it always like this?’”. 

Mrs Watkins also talked about the difficulty of striking a balance between rowing at a high level and an Oxbridge degree, as Newnham were Head of the River under her captaincy. She described her main memory of Cambridge as being “pretty busy and pretty knackered”, saying that, realistically, “there’s only room for two” aspects of student life out of working, socialising and sport. Although her commitment to rowing and her degree pushed her social life out, she said that the benefits of competing in high level sport “more than make up for a few missed nights in Cindies”.


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