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Only in Oxbridge: The Boat Race, What You Should Know

24th March 2016

On Sunday March 27, 2016, while many people are gorging themselves silly on Easter candy, thousands of people – many of them students, others just there for the exciting spectacle – will line the four-and-a-quarter mile course from Putney to Mortlake in the UK for the Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race. Or, as it is more often referred to, simply THE BOAT RACE.

The Boat Race is one of the most anticipated events of the year for both colleges and an Oxbridge tradition that is famed all over the world and televised as far away as India. It is also, for those lucky enough to be able to attend in person, an amazing day out. And a fascinating one too. Here are just some rather interesting things about the Boat Race you should know:

Finally, Ladies Have an Equal Footing

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There has been a Ladies’ Boat Race in place since 1927, but it was not until 2015 that it was finally given equal billing with the Mens. Formerly held along a separate rivercourse in Henley, the Ladies’ Boat race is now on the same course, on the same day as the men’s, much to the delight of many, including the many former female rowers who faced a great deal of ridicule and abuse from both their male counterparts and the crowds as recently as the 60s and 70s. And this year, as has been the case for the previous two races, the Oxford Mens’ Team have two female cox on their crew; Australian Olivia Cleary of Oriel College and American Jill Carlson of Magdalen College.

It’s All Over Very Quickly

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Although most spectators make a day of attending the Boat Race, the actual races themselves are over rather quickly, in usually less than 25 minutes. The fastest time on record for the course is 16 minutes and 19 seconds, an achievement set by the Cambridge Men in 1998. No one really has a problem with all of this though as the build up and aftermath that surrounds the races are as much a part of the event as the actual racing.

Getting Off to the Right Start

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The lane in which teams will race is decided by the toss of an 1829 gold sovereign by the rowing clubs’ respective Presidents. Winning the Middlesex station means a team gains an advantage on the first and final sections of the race. Opting for the Surrey station means a team has the advantage round the long middle bend instead. And in terms of observation, Middlesex means the north bank of the river and Surrey, the south.

Watching with Caution

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Watching the race action right at the water’s edge sounds like it would be truly fantastic, and so many do vie to get themselves as close to action as possible, arriving hours early to stake their place. There is a serious downside though; they are all going to get drenched.

This is because in addition to the racing boats themselves, there is also a dramatic procession of other vessels bobbing along right alongside them – the umpires’ launch, the many camera boats, the Port of London Authority boats and the Marine Support Units – that all make enough waves between them to ensure that no one standing close to the river’s edge at any given spot stays dry.

The Role of the Umpire

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Both the Mens and Ladies Boat Races are hotly contested to say the least, as is any competition between two schools who have been the fiercest of rivals for the best part of a thousand years.

The person tasked with keeping order is the Umpire. Usually a veteran of the race themselves, the Umpire has their own boat and has the final say in any contested matter. The umpire tries to ensure neither of the crews commits a “foul” by warning them to keep to their own racing line. He has the authority to disqualify a crew, though this has only happened once in the modern era; in the Isis/Goldie Race of 1990, They are also responsible for keeping observers in line. In 2012, the umpire had to stop the men’s race after a rogue swimmer appeared in the race path.

Pubbing and Picnicking

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As we have now mentioned several times, there is far more to a day at The Race than actually watching the action on the river, as thrilling as it is (and it really is) Whatever the weather every pub, restaurant and cafe in the area offers their own specials and tie ins for race and many find that a seat at a table at one of the riverside establishments – if you can find one – with a drink and sandwich in hand is the very best way to watch all of the action unfold..

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