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. The 2004 race was won by the Cambridge team.
The course is 4 miles and 374 yards 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:
- 1829 - Putney to Henley
- 1839 to 1842 - Westminster to Putney
- 1846, 1856, 1862, 1863 - Mortlake to Putney
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 71, with one dead heat in 1877, although legend 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"! 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. 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 beween 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 also race at Henley on a different day.
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