Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Boat Race is a rowing race between the rowing clubs of the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. It is rowed annually each Spring on the River Thames in London, England. The event is an extremely popular one, not only with the alumni of the universities, but also with rowers in general and those with no connection at all. It's estimated that a quarter of a million people watch the race from the river banks. The first race was in 1829 and it has been held annually since 1856 with the exception of the war years.
Members of both teams are traditionally known as blues and the boats as blue boats, with Cambridge being represented as light blue, and Oxford as dark blue.
The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6,779 m) from Putney to Mortlake, passing Barnes and Hammersmith. The race is for heavyweight eights (i.e. for eight rowers with a cox steering, and no restrictions on weight). The race is timed so that the rowers row with the tide (but against the usual stream of the Thames). The course for the main part of the races' history has been from Putney to Mortlake, but there have been a few other courses:
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 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 event is now a British national institution, and is televised live each year. As of the 2005 race, the BBC will hand over broadcasting rights to ITV, after 66 years. The race has been won by Cambridge 78 times and Oxford 72. 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 2003 race was amongst the closest in history, with Oxford winning by less than a foot. One entertainment for spectators is the possibility of a boat sinking. This has occurred on three occasions; to the Oxford crew in 1925 and to Cambridge in 1859 and in 1978.
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, including notably four times Olympic gold medallist Matthew Pinsent who rowed for Oxford in 1990, 1991, and 1993. 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.
Although the heavyweight mens 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 (and reserves), and women's lightweight eights race in the Henley Boat Races on a different day.
Training for the boat race officially begins in September (when university term starts). 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 in reverse over the Boat Race course.
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 - in 2005 Cambridge named theirs Kara and Whakamanawa (Maori words for strength and honour) and Oxford's were called Cowboys and Indians.
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, Molsey , 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 two extra rowers (called 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).
- Because of this event, boat race has become 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 Lord Snowdon (Cambridge 1950), Colin Moynihan (Oxford 1977), and Hugh Laurie (Cambridge 1980).
- Cambridge: 78 wins
- Oxford: 72 wins
- Dead heats: 1
Unofficial Wartime Races
|1944||River Ouse, Ely||Oxford|
- Course Record: Cambridge 1998, 16 mins 19 secs
- Heaviest rower: Christopher Heathcote , Oxford 1990, 17 st 5 lb (110.22 kg)
- Lightest rower: Alfred Higgins , Oxford 1882, 9 st 6.5 lb (60.1 kg)
- Heavest crew: Oxford 2005, 15 st 16 lb (98.35 kg) 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
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