Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race
Photo by Ale on Flickr

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race is an Annual Boat Race between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club. It is traditionally held on the River Thames in London, England between open-weight eights.

The Oxford Cambridge boat race consists of men’s boat races and women’s boat races. There is also a separate race held for the reserve crews. The Boat Races are famously known as the University Boat Race or the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

The First Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

The first boat race for men was held in the year 1829. The races have been regularly conducted annually since 1856. The races were not conducted during the First and the Second World Wars, but unofficially, races were conducted during the World Wars.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race
Photo by Hugh Llewelyn from Flickr

The first women’s boat race was held during the year 1927. The Annual Women’s boat race has been conducted regularly since 1964. And, the women’s event has been referred to as the Boat Race since 2018.

 History of The Men’s Boat Race

Charles Merivale, a student of St John’s College, Cambridge, and his school friend Charles Wordsworth studying at Christ Church, Oxford were instrumental in starting this time-old tradition.

The story goes like this, the students of the University of Cambridge challenged the Oxford University students to a race at the Henley-on-Thames. What was the result? The University of Cambridge lost easily to the University of Oxford.

The official colours of the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race were blue and dark blue. Oxford crew wore dark blue jerseys which were later known as the Oxford Blue. Cambridge wore blue with pink sashes. For the second race held in 1836, the Cambridge crew had theirs changed to light blue and the second race was from Westminister to Putney.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race
Photo by Robbie Shade from Flickr

The student body of both the universities was not pleased with the venue chosen for the Oxford Cambridge boat race and the next couple of years were at loggerheads. The Oxford students preferred to race at Henley while Cambridge wanted to do so in London. 

After a peaceful resolution, Oxford University Boat Club officially announced that the races will be held on the Tideway. The boat race resumed in 1839 between the Oxford men and the crew from Cambridge.

The monumental event continues till today. At the end of the race, the loser challenges the championship course winner to a rematch every year.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race
Photo by Herry from Flickr

History of the Women’s Boat Race

The women’s race has always been a separate event till 2015. There have been significant inequalities between the women’s boat races and the men’s boat races.

However, there have been quite a number of changes over the last few years. With the sponsorship of Newton Investment Management subsidiary of BNY Mellon, both the races have become more or less of equal standards.

Both the events are held together since 2015 and on 11th April 2015, the BNY Mellon Boat Race was held on the Tideway. The women were also allowed training facilities similar to that of men since 2016.

Some of the famous sportspersons to have joined the women’s boat race was Grace Prendergast of New Zealand. The world’s number 1 female rower helped Cambridge women to win the 2019 Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.

In 2010, Oxford Blues Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of Gemini, a Cryptocurrency firm took over as title sponsors for the sporting event. The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race has since then been known as the Gemini Boat Race.

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race Course

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race is a 4.5 miles course. It has officially stretched from Putney to Mortlake since the year 1845.

The boat race is generally held in March or early April. It is normally held after the captain of the previous year’s losing team, issues a challenge for the next race.

The time taken to complete the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race is 20 minutes with the Cambridge men holding the record time of finishing the race within 16 minutes and 19 seconds for the year 1988.

Dead Heat Controversary (Oxford Cambridge Boat Race in 1877)

“Dead Heat” is a term used in racing sports events whenever the performances of competitors are too close and neither of them can be judged a winner. The result will be a “tie” with both the competitors being awarded equal ranking.

The 1877 Oxford Cambridge Boat race was declared “dead heat” as both the crews crossed the finish line in 24 minutes and 8 seconds. This controversial ruling was made by John Phelps, the race judge who was reportedly over 70 and was blind in one eye.

The controversy was that the race judge announced the race as “dead heat” when the Oxford crew was nearly six feet behind. John Phelps shot down all critics by declaring that the noses of both the boats passed the post strictly at the same level and therefore the result was a “Dead Heat”

Photo by Bruno Girin from Flickr

Oxford Mutiny in 1959 and 1987

In 1959, Oxford Blues wanted President Ronnie Howard and Coach Jumbo Edwards to step down. This was unsuccessful as Cambridge University went on to support them. The Race was held despite the mutiny and Oxford won the competition splendidly.

Cambridge University won the Oxford Cambridge Boat race for the first time in eleven years in the year 1986. Oxford crew member, Chris Clark, a determined American vowed to take revenge the following year. True to his word, he recruited four American post-graduates and three international-class rowers.

He aimed to assemble one of the fastest Boat Race Crew in the history of the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race. The Oxford crew was unhappy with the training regime of Dan Topolski, Oxford Coach and on many occasions, the crew walked out of the training schedule.

A fitness test between Clark and the Oxford club president Macdonald resulted in Clark being victorious. This called for the removal of Macdonald and his crew. The American crews refused to cooperate as long as Macdonald was part of the crew.

The Mutiny was in the public eye for a considerable period and after several negotiations, Clark and his team were replaced by Oxford’s reserve crew.

Oxford University won the Oxford Cambridge Boat race comfortably by four lengths despite many routing for Cambridge University.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race in 2012

The 2012 Oxford Cambridge boat race was halted for nearly 30 minutes shortly after it began. Australian Trenton Oldfield, a lone protester swam in between the boats near Chiswick bridge. He was protesting against spending cuts and a growing culture of elitism within British society.

As soon as he was spotted on the waters, assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent halted the race for safety reasons. The race was allowed to restart, however, the boats clashed and the Oxford crewman Hanno Wienhausen’s oar broke into half a length.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race
Photo by Peter Trimming from Flickr

The race umpire John Garrett ruled that the clash was an error by the Oxford crew and allowed the race to continue. Cambridge won after taking a comfortable lead in the boat race.

The race umpire did not accept the Oxford crew’s final appeal to overthrow the result of the race. He judged that the boat race was won rightfully by the Cambridge University Boat Club. The 2012 Oxford Cambridge boat race victory celebrations were cancelled as Oxford bowman Alex Woods collapsed due to over-exhaustion and had to receive emergency treatment.

Many were disappointed over the most bizarre and dramatic moments in the history of the competition. The entire event was ruined and the Cambridge’s victory was not celebrated as was expected. The 2012 Oxford Cambridge Boat Race was sadly destroyed by the actions of an insane person.

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race 2022

The star-studded men’s crew of Oxford rowed to victory this year after five years. The Boat Race 2022 was convincingly won by the victorious Oxford men as they beat Cambridge University superbly.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race
Photo by Mark Freeman from Flickr

Although Cambridge’s crew chose to race on the Middlesex side, to take on a shorter route, it was Oxford with its five Olympians in their crew of eight men who took the lead. The heavily contested race was judged by Umpire Matthew Pinsent, a four-time Olympic Gold Medallist.

The Oxford men confidently rowed victoriously to a clear margin passing under the Hammersmith bridge winning the men’s race exceptionally.

The total number of wins by the Cambridge team is 85 as against 81 wins by the Oxford team. Oxford University thus trails by just four wins.

Boat Sinkings

There have been quite a few incidents wherein the boats have sunk during the races. Some of them are as follows:

  1.  Oxford Cambridge Boat Race in 1912 – The boats of both the crews sunk due to bad weather. Although Oxford rowed taking a significant lead, it had to stop at the bank after passing Hammersmith bridge. The race was scheduled to restart but the Cambridge boat sank after passing through Harrod’s Depository.

  2. Oxford Cambridge Boat Race in 1859 and 1978- The Cambridge boat sank during these races.

  3. Oxford Cambridge Boat Race in 1925- The Oxford boat sunk during this race.

The 1951 and the 1984 Boat races were rescheduled the following day as the boats had faced unexpected sinking at one point during the races. In the 2016 boat race for women, the Cambridge women began to sink but were able to recover on time to finish the race.

Interesting Facts about the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

  • Some of the famous people who have been part of the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race were Matthew Pinsent CBE as part of the Oxford team and won in 1990 and 1991, the Winklevoss twins were a part of the Oxford 2010 losing team, Lord Snowdon rowed for the Cambridge team in 1950, Hugh Laurie was part of the 1980 Cambridge team and Dan Snow rowed for the Oxford team between 1991 and 2001.

  • The famous BBC radio commentator John Snagge reportedly commented during the 1949 Boat race.

  • The Boat race has been famously used in the Cockney Rhyming Slang for a face.

  • The rowing presidents generally toss an 1829 gold sovereign coin to remember the origins of the race. And this is done to choose the side of the river Thames that the teams will have to row on.

  • Every crew member of the Oxford Cambridge Boat race approximately trains for two hours for every stroke in the race. 

  • The start and finish lines are officially marked by stones on the South Bank of the River Thames. It is marked as “UBR” which means University Boat Race.

  • The slowest winning time was 26 minutes and 5 seconds by Cambridge University in 1860.

  • The tallest rowers were Josh West of Cambridge and Paul Bennett of Oxford at 6ft and 9 inches.

Coverage by Media of the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race

After appearing in a short film in the year 1895 boat race called ” The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race”, the event has become sensational and is being telecasted by the British National Institution every year.

The women’s boat race has gained popularity since 2015 and is watched by over 4.8 million viewers since that year. And, you will be surprised to know that BBC sports have telecasted the men’s boat race since 1938.

The boat races have become as famous as the Varsity Matches and many tune in to watch on television, or online. In 2015, nearly 4,8 million people in the UK watched the women’s race, and 6.2 million tuned in to watch the men’s boat race. Nearly a quarter of a million people watched the race from the river banks.

The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race has become an iconic event in the history of the United Kingdom. Several characters in the stories of PG Wodehouse mention the boat race in the course of the story. Other authors who have mentioned the boat race are Arthur Ransome and Anthony Buckeridge.

There is no need to wonder about where to stay while visiting England to see the famous Oxford Cambridge Boat Race because there are plenty of places to stay near Oxford and Cambridge universities. As a Cambridge fan or an Oxford Supporter, you will enjoy the action of both the teams in the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race.


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