A Beginner’s Guide to the Boat Race


boat race

(Photo Credit: theboatrace.org, 2014)

As Easter approaches that can only mean one thing, not the Easter bunny, not the revival of Christ, not the excessive amount of chocolate many are to consume but the boat race. This annual event is now something of an Easter time tradition pitting the top two universities against one another in a four, and a bit, mile race spanning from Putney to Mortlake. Although many have heard of the boat race not many will know much, if anything, about what is happening. This brief guide will hopefully shed some light on one of Britain’s finest sporting events.

What actually is it?

The Boat race is a rowing race against Oxford and Cambridge University that started in 1829. It first came about after a competition between old school friends and took place at Henley-on-Thames, the birth place of Rowing. In 1836 the race moved to London and became the event that many will recognise. Cambridge currently lead the standings with 81 wins to Oxfords 77, there was however, one dead heat in 1877.

As previously stated the course is just over 4 miles long (4 miles 374 yards), or just shy of 7 kilometres (6.779) if you prefer and the fastest recorded time to complete the course is 16 minutes and 9 seconds, a time set by a Cambridge crew in 1998.


Who’s who?

Rather confusingly both teams will be in Blue. Cambridge’s colours are a light greeny blue whereas Oxford will be in a dark navy blue.


Is it just one race?

Yes and no. the main event that everyone thinks of is the men’s first 8. Boats in rowing are rather simply categorised by the number of rowers in each boat therefore 8 people in a boat = an 8. The race is comprised of two boats, one from each university, with 8 rowers and one cox. A cox is the short one that shouts a lot and steers the boat and invariably gets chucked in the water if his team wins. That is why you will hear people talking of eight’s during the day. The symbol for an eight boat is 8+, the + means that there is a cox in the boat steering. This is the big one that everyone will be talking however there is more going on during the day.

As well as the famous first team 8+ there are many other races preceding the main event. There is a second team boat from each university, Oxford’s is called Isis and Cambridge’s is called Goldie. These are in essence the reserve team. Further to this there is also a lightweight race. In rowing size makes a difference, bigger heavier athletes tend to go faster. It goes back to newton’s second law of motion:

Force = Mass x Acceleration


Heavier people tend to create more force through the water and go faster and because of this there are weight categories in rowing just like Boxing. The difference in rowing is that there are only two different categories, light weight and heavy weight. For every event the men compete in there is a Women’s alternative too meaning there are actually quite a few events going on but one big one.


Who’s the favourite?

This year’s race is interesting. As previously mentioned bigger guys tend to go faster and this year Cambridge is the heavier crew. You would therefore think they have the advantage but this year it is not that simple.

Oxford, for every pound they may lack in weight, has vastly superior experience on the big stage. There are three Olympic medallist’s in the Oxford crew, proof that they can handle the big occasion and are not afraid of the limelight. Add that to the fact that many of the Cambridge crew had never wielded an oar until coming to University, learning how to row while at Cambridge, Oxford on the other hand have internationally tested athlete’s.   Not only this but Oxford also have the biggest rower in the race. Malcom Howard at 17st 1lb is nothing short of colossal but more importantly has been part of the Canadian Olympic team at two separate Olympics, winning Gold in Beijing and Silver in London in the eight. Although it is very true that one person cannot carry the rest Malcom must be a huge boost for Oxford.

While Oxford may have the experience much of their training has been disjointed this year. Ironically enough there has been too much water for them to row on as their training facility has been flooded throughout the year. Spending time faffing about in a mini bus instead of getting on with what you are there to do is never ideal and must have had an effect favouring Cambridge.



With all this in mind most of the bookies have Oxford down as the clear favourites:

boat race odds 3(Williamhill.com)

Oxford are the bookies and most experts favourite as many feel that their experience will prove superior over the weight advantage of Cambridge but I wouldn’t count them out completely.  As well as just betting for a winner there are also some more interesting bets to be placed. My personal favourite is ‘Commentators to apologise for bad language of one or both coxes at any point during the race’. Hint this is almost guaranteed.  Another favourite is for either boat to sink. You may think this impossible but it is not uncommon and a quick YouTube search will show you it does happen. As anyone will know, if the wind picks up then the Thames can become a rough patch of water and there has been many a rowing boat to go down.

boat race odds 5(Williamhill.com 2014)

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