The Boat Race

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The Men's Boat Race
Boat Race Logo 2018.png
Contested by
Cambridge University Boat Club Rowing Blade.svg Oxford University Boat Club.svg
First boat race 10 June 1829
Annual event since 1856
Current champion Cambridge
Course record Cambridge, 1998 (16 min 19 sec)[1]
Course The Championship Course
River Thames, London
Course length 4.2 miles (6.8 km)
Sponsor BNY Mellon (since 2013)[2]
Official charity Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)[3]
Trophy The Boat Race Trophy
Number of wins
Cambridge Oxford
84 80
There has been one dead heat, recorded in 1877.
Official website
The Women's Boat Race
Boat Race Logo 2018.png
Contested by
Cambridge University Boat Club Rowing Blade.svg Oxford University Boat Club.svg
First boat race 15 March 1927[4]
First side-by-side race 1936[5]
Annual event since 1964[6]
Current champion Cambridge
Course record Cambridge, 2017 (18 min 33 sec)[7]
Course The Championship Course
River Thames, London (2015 onwards)[8]
Course length 4.2 miles (6.8 km)[8]
Sponsor Newton Investment Management (since 2011)[9][2]
Official charity Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI)[3]
Trophy The Women's Boat Race Trophy (since 2014)[10]
Previous courses
The Isis, Oxford and
River Cam, Cambridge
1927 to 1976 with several gaps[11]
River Thames, London 1929, 1935[11][12][13]
Henley 1977 to 2014 except
Dorney Lake 2001, 2013[14][15]
Number of wins[6]
Cambridge Oxford
44 30
Official website

The Boat Race is an annual set of rowing races between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club, rowed between open-weight eights on the River Thames in London, England. There are separate men's and women's races, as well as races for reserve crews. It is also known as the University Boat Race and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race.

The men's race was first held in 1829 and has been held annually since 1856, except during the First and Second World Wars and the COVID-19 pandemic. The first women's event was in 1927 and the race has been held annually since 1964. Since 2015, the women's race has taken place on the same day and course, and since 2018 the combined event of the two races has been referred to as "The Boat Race". In the 2019 races, which took place on Sunday 7 April 2019, Cambridge won the men's and women's races as well as both reserve races.

The course covers a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake. Members of both crews are traditionally known as blues and each boat as a "Blue Boat", with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford in dark blue. As of 2019, Cambridge has won the men's race 84 times and Oxford 80 times, with one dead heat. Cambridge has led Oxford in cumulative wins since 1930. In the women's race, Cambridge have won the race 44 times and Oxford 30 times. Cambridge has led Oxford in cumulative wins since 1966. A reserve boat race has been held since 1965 for the men and 1966 for the women.

Over 250,000 people watch the race from the banks of the river each year. In 2009, a record 270,000 people watched the race live.[16] A further 15 million or more watch it on television.[17]

History of the men's race[edit]


An engraving of the 1841 Boat Race, with Lambeth Palace

The tradition was started in 1829 by Charles Merivale, a student at St John's College, Cambridge, and his Old Harrovian school friend Charles Wordsworth who was studying at Christ Church, Oxford.[18] The University of Cambridge challenged the University of Oxford to a race at Henley-on-Thames but lost easily.[18] Oxford raced in dark blue because five members of the crew, including the stroke, were from Christ Church, then Head of the River, whose colours were dark blue.[19] The colour itself is said to have been borrowed from Harrow Blue, which Charles Wordsworth and Charles Merivale, the creators of The Boat Race, attended. There is a dispute as to the source of the colour chosen by Cambridge.

The second race was in 1836, with the venue moved to a course from Westminster to Putney. Over the next two years, there was disagreement over where the race should be held, with Oxford preferring Henley and Cambridge preferring London.[19] Following the official formation of the Oxford University Boat Club, racing between the two universities resumed in 1839 on the Tideway and the tradition continues to the present day, with the loser challenging the winner to a rematch annually.[20]

Since 1856, the race has been held every year, except for years 1915–1919, 1940–1945 and 2020.

1877 dead heat[edit]

The race in 1877 was declared a dead heat.[1] Both crews finished in a time of 24 minutes and 8 seconds in bad weather.[21] The verdict of the race judge, John Phelps, is considered suspect because he was reportedly over 70 and blind in one eye.[21][22][23] Rowing historian Tim Koch, writing in the official 2014 Boat Race Programme, notes that there is "a very big and very entrenched lie" about the race, including the claim that Phelps had announced "Dead heat ... to Oxford by six feet" (the distance supposedly mentioned by Phelps varies according to the telling).[24]

Phelps's nickname "Honest John" was not an ironic one, and he was not (as is sometimes claimed) drunk under a bush at the time of the finish. He did have to judge who had won without the assistance of finish posts (which were installed in time for the next year's race).[23] Some newspapers had believed Oxford won a narrow victory but their viewpoint was from downstream; Phelps considered that the boats were essentially level with each surging forward during the stroke cycle. With no clear way to determine who had surged forward at the exact finish line, Phelps could only pronounce it a dead heat. Koch believes that the press and Oxford supporters made up the stories about Phelps later, which Phelps had no chance to refute.[24]

A portrayal of the dead heat finish in 1877.

Oxford, partially disabled, were making effort after effort to hold their rapidly waning lead, while Cambridge, who, curiously enough, had settled together again, and were rowing almost as one man, were putting on a magnificent spurt at 40 strokes to the minute, with a view of catching their opponents before reaching the winning-post. Thus struggling over the remaining portion of the course, the two eights raced past the flag alongside one another, and the gun fired amid a scene of excitement rarely equalled and never exceeded. Cheers for one crew were succeeded by counter-cheers for the other, and it was impossible to tell what the result was until the Press boat backed down to the Judge and inquired the issue. John Phelps, the waterman, who officiated, replied that the noses of the boats passed the post strictly level, and that the result was a dead heat.[25]

— The Times

Cancellations during World Wars[edit]

Because of World War, the race was not held in 1915–1919 and 1940–1945. On January 12, 1915, the Daily Telegraph announced that the annual race was cancelled due to men leaving for war, "for every available oarsman, either Fresher or Blue, has joined the colours."[26]

1959 Oxford mutiny[edit]

In 1959 some of the existing Oxford blues attempted to oust president Ronnie Howard and coach Jumbo Edwards.[27] However, their attempt failed when Cambridge supported the president.[27] Three of the dissidents returned and Oxford went on to win by six lengths.[28]

1987 Oxford mutiny[edit]

Cambridge at their stakeboat, just before the start of the 2009 race

Following defeat in the previous year's race, Oxford's first in eleven years, American Chris Clark was determined to gain revenge: "Next year we're gonna kick ass ... Cambridge's ass. Even if I have to go home and bring the whole US squad with me."[29] He recruited another four American post-graduates: three international-class rowers (Dan Lyons, Chris Huntington and Chris Penny) and a cox (Jonathan Fish),[30][31] in an attempt to put together the fastest Boat Race crew in the history of the contest.[32]

When you recruit mercenaries, you can expect some pirates.

British press[33]

Disagreements over the training regime of Dan Topolski, the Oxford coach ("He wanted us to spend more time training on land than water!", lamented Lyons[30]), led to the crew walking out on at least one occasion, and resulted in the coach revising his approach.[34] A fitness test between Clark and club president Donald Macdonald (in which Clark triumphed) resulted in a call for Macdonald's removal; it was accompanied with a threat that the Americans would refuse to row should Macdonald remain in the crew.[34] As boat club president, Macdonald "had absolute power over selection", and when he announced that Clark would row on starboard, his weaker side, Macdonald would row on the port side and Tony Ward was to be dropped from the crew entirely, the American contingent mutinied.[31] After considerable negotiation and debate, much of it conducted in the public eye, Clark, Penny, Huntington, Lyons and Fish were dropped and replaced by members of Oxford's reserve crew, Isis.[31]

The race was won by Oxford by four lengths,[1] despite Cambridge being favourites.[35]

In 1989 Topolski and author Patrick Robinson's book about the events, True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny, was published. Seven years later, a film based on the book was released. Alison Gill, the then-president of the Oxford University Women's Boat Club, wrote The Yanks at Oxford, in which she defended the Americans and claimed Topolski wrote True Blue in order to justify his own actions.[34] River and Rowing Museum founder Chris Dodd described True Blue as "particularly offensive" yet also wrote "[Oxford] lacked the power, the finesse—basically everything the pre-mutiny line-up had going for it."[31]

2012 disruption[edit]

In the 2012 race, after almost three-quarters of the course had been rowed, the race was halted for over 30 minutes when a lone protester, Australian Trenton Oldfield, entered the water from Chiswick Eyot and deliberately swam between the boats near Chiswick Pier with the intention of protesting against spending cuts, and what he saw as the erosion of civil liberties and a growing culture of elitism within British society.[36] Once he was spotted by assistant umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent, both boats were required to stop for safety reasons.

The umpire, John Garrett, decided to restart the race from the eastern end of Chiswick Eyot.[37] Shortly after the restart the boats clashed and the oar of Oxford crewman Hanno Wienhausen was broken. Garrett judged the clash to be Oxford's fault and allowed the race to continue. Cambridge quickly took the lead and went on to win the race. The Oxford crew entered a final appeal to the umpire which was quickly rejected; and Cambridge were confirmed as winners by ​4 14 lengths. It was the first time since 1849 that a crew had won the boat race without an official recorded winning time.[1] After the end of the race Oxford's bow man, Alex Woods, received emergency treatment after collapsing in the boat from exhaustion. Because of the circumstances, the post-race celebrations by the winning Cambridge crew were unusually muted and the planned award ceremony was cancelled.[37][38][39][40]

Oldfield was convicted in October 2012 of causing a public nuisance, fined £750 and sentenced to six months' imprisonment.[41] In June 2013 he was refused leave to remain in the UK;[42] he successfully appealed,[43][44] with the appeal judge stating that there was "a public interest in providing a platform for protest at both common law and the European Convention on Human Rights".[45]

2020 cancellation[edit]

Like other major sports events, the 2020 boat race was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.[46]

2021 relocation[edit]

The 2021 races are to be held on the Great Ouse at Ely in Cambridgeshire.[47] This is due to the safety issues of Hammersmith Bridge, as well as the expectation that restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic will still be in force.[48]


In the 1912 race, run in extremely poor weather and high winds, both crews sank. Oxford rowed into a significant early lead, but began taking on water, and made for the bank shortly after passing Hammersmith Bridge to empty the boat out: although they attempted to restart, the race was abandoned at this point because Cambridge had also sunk, while passing the Harrods Depository.[49]

Cambridge also sank in 1859 and in 1978, while Oxford did so in 1925,[50][51][52] and again in 1951; the 1951 race was re-rowed on the following Monday.[53] In 1984 the Cambridge boat sank after colliding with a barge before the start of the race, which was then rescheduled for the next day.[54] In 2016, at Barnes Bridge, Cambridge women began to sink and received advice from the umpire to pull to the side. The Cambridge cox indicated that she wanted to continue to complete the course and was allowed to do so.

History of the women's race[edit]

From the first women's event in 1927, the Women's Boat Race was run separately from the men's event until 2015. There was significant inequality between the two events.[55] Changes in recent years, arising significantly from the sponsorship of Newton Investment Management,[56][57] have made the two races more equal: both events have been held together on The Tideway since 2015, and there are new training facilities for the women, comparable to those of the men, since 2016.[58][59][60]


Boat Race course ("Middlesex" and "Surrey" denote sides of the Thames Tideway corresponding to the traditional English counties)
Competing for the fastest current

The course is 4 miles and 374 yards (6.779 km) from Putney to Mortlake,[61] passing Hammersmith and Barnes; it is sometimes referred to as the Championship Course, and follows an S shape, east to west. The start and finish are marked by the University Boat Race Stones on the south bank. The clubs' presidents toss a coin (the 1829 sovereign) before the race for the right to choose which side of the river (station) they will row on: their decision is based on the day's weather conditions and how the various bends in the course might favour their crew's pace. The north station ('Middlesex') has the advantage of the first and last bends, and the south ('Surrey') station the longer middle bend.

During the race the coxes compete for the fastest current, which lies at the deepest part of the river, frequently leading to clashes of blades and warnings from the umpire. A crew that gets a lead of more than a boat's length can cut in front of their opponent, making it extremely difficult for the trailing crew to gain the lead. For this reason the tactics of the race are generally to go fast early on, and few races have a change of the lead after halfway (though this happened in 2003, 2007 and 2010).

The race is rowed upstream, but is timed to start on the incoming flood tide so that the crews are rowing with the fastest possible current.[62] If a strong wind is blowing from the west it will be against the tide in places along the course, causing the water to become very rough. The conditions are sometimes such that an international regatta would be cancelled, but the Boat Race has a tradition of proceeding even in potential sinking conditions (see Sinkings above).

During the race the crews pass various traditional landmarks, visible from the river:

Landmark Coordinates Comments
Westminster School Boat Club early morning.jpg
Exterior KCS Boat House.jpg
Oxford boats from Westminster School Boat Club (left), and Cambridge from King's College School Boat Club (right). Both clubs are near the Start, just downstream of the Black Buoy. The crews warm up by rowing downstream below Putney Bridge before taking their places at the start.
The Start at Putney Bridge
51°28′02″N 0°12′50″W / 51.467319°N 0.213756°W / 51.467319; -0.213756 (Boat Race start)Coordinates: 51°28′02″N 0°12′50″W / 51.467319°N 0.213756°W / 51.467319; -0.213756 (Boat Race start)
Boat Race Start stone.jpg
Cambridge VIII at Stakeboat - 2009 Boat Race.jpg
The race starts from two stake boats moored so that the competitors' bows are in line with the first University Stone. The winner of the toss has the choice of station. The Surrey station won 10 out of the 15 races 1994–2008[63] – though this is not statistically significant.
Start - 2009 Boat Race.jpg
Start section (empty) - 2009 Boat Race.jpg
Coxes raise their arms while their VIIIs are getting into position. When both crews are ready, the Umpire starts the race by waving a red flag. In the straight section after the start the Middlesex crew tries to hold the fastest water on the centre line of the river.
The Black Buoy
51°28′16″N 0°13′16″W / 51.471211°N 0.221132°W / 51.471211; -0.221132 (The Black Buoy)
Boat Race Black Buoy.jpg
Roughly marks the end of the Putney Boat Houses. The Black Buoy has been painted yellow to avoid collisions.
Fulham Football Club
51°28′30″N 0°13′18″W / 51.474895°N 0.221655°W / 51.474895; -0.221655 (Fulham Football Club)
Boat Race Craven Cottage.jpg
'Craven Cottage': crews stay wide (preferring the Surrey bank) round the bend as the area in front of the football ground (known as 'the Fulham flats') is shallow, with slack water.[64]
The Mile Post
51°28′43″N 0°13′37″W / 51.47852°N 0.226987°W / 51.47852; -0.226987 (The Mile Post)
Boat Race 1st Milestone and bust.jpg
The 'post' is in fact a stone monument to rowing coach Steve Fairbairn. Exactly a mile from the Boat Race start, it is a traditional timing point. The Middlesex bank water continues to be shallow and slack all the way to Hammersmith Bridge.[64]
The Crabtree
51°28′55″N 0°13′25″W / 51.482041°N 0.223482°W / 51.482041; -0.223482 (The Crabtree)
Boat Race Crabtree Reach.jpg
This section is called the "Crabtree Reach" after the Crabtree Tavern pub on the Middlesex bank (just to the right of the camera).
Harrods Furniture Depository
51°29′05″N 0°13′41″W / 51.484633°N 0.227956°W / 51.484633; -0.227956 (Harrods' Furniture Repository)
Boat Race Harrod's Depositary.jpg
Previously the warehouse for the famous shop, now flats. For the next 8–9 minutes the bend will be in Surrey's favour. The deepest water now is closer to the Surrey bank.[64]
Hammersmith Bridge
51°29′17″N 0°13′50″W / 51.488129°N 0.230536°W / 51.488129; -0.230536 (Hammersmith Bridge)
Boat Race Hammersmith Bridge.jpg
Coxes aim for the second lamp-post from the left which marks the deepest part of the river and therefore the fastest line. 80%–85% of boats ahead at Hammersmith Bridge have won, though only 50% in the 6 years up to 2008.[63] The turning point comes once the crews are under Hammersmith Bridge.
St Paul's School
51°29′20″N 0°14′09″W / 51.488983°N 0.235855°W / 51.488983; -0.235855 (St Paul's School)
Boat Race St Paul's.jpg
1.8 miles have been rowed; the whole width becomes choppy when there is any form of westerly. The next 3–4 minutes where still side-by-side give the Surrey crew their last advantage.[63]
Chiswick Eyot
51°29′15″N 0°14′45″W / 51.487596°N 0.245814°W / 51.487596; -0.245814 (Chiswick Eyot)
Chiswick Eyot.jpg
A tree-covered river island. The river is briefly straight, and the deepest water is central.[64]
Fuller's Brewery
51°29′14″N 0°15′01″W / 51.487182°N 0.250411°W / 51.487182; -0.250411 (Chiswick Eyot)
Boat Race Fullers Brewery.jpg
Just visible to crews, behind the eyot. If a south-west breeze picks up then the waves will be as high as they get along the Championship Course against the upstream tide here.[63]
Chiswick Pier
51°28′57″N 0°15′03″W / 51.482452°N 0.250937°W / 51.482452; -0.250937 (Chiswick Pier)
Boat Race Chiswick Pier.jpg
2.87 miles have been rowed. When strong prevailing winds strike, the built-up inside of the Middlesex bend gives that crew the calmer water.[63]
The Crossing
51°28′44″N 0°15′02″W / 51.47879°N 0.250583°W / 51.47879; -0.250583 (The Crossing) Marks the end of the long Surrey bend. The deep water channel is in the centre of the river.[64]
The Bandstand
51°28′36″N 0°15′08″W / 51.476572°N 0.252149°W / 51.476572; -0.252149 (The Bandstand)
Boat Race Bandstand.jpg
The deepest, faster water is slightly close to the Middlesex bank at this point, the water near the Surrey bank is shallow.[64]
Barnes Railway Bridge
51°28′22″N 0°15′14″W / 51.472736°N 0.253758°W / 51.472736; -0.253758 (Barnes Railway Bridge)
Boat Race 2011 Barnes Railway Bridge centre span.jpg
Crews must pass through the centre arch. 95% of boats leading here have won. Only one boat has won since 1945 when trailing at Barnes Bridge: Oxford came from behind this late in 2002. The Barnes Bridge bend by Emanuel School Boat House is very tight: if the crews are level then the coxes may jostle, subject to directions, for the centre.[63]
The Mortlake Brewery or The Stag Brewery
51°28′14″N 0°15′59″W / 51.470474°N 0.266376°W / 51.470474; -0.266376 (Stag Brewery)
Boat Race Mortlake Brewery.jpg
Spanning almost the last 300 metres of the course, at least 3.95 miles (6.36 km) have been rowed.
The Finish near Chiswick Bridge
51°28′22″N 0°16′05″W / 51.472861°N 0.268151°W / 51.472861; -0.268151 (The Boat Race Finish)
Boat Race Finish posts.jpg
Boat Race Finish post 800x533.jpg
The finish, just before Chiswick Bridge, is marked by the University Stone on the south bank and a University Post on the north bank.
The Boat Race trophy as seen in 2014.

At the conclusion of the race, the boats come ashore at Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club,[65] directly upriver of Chiswick Bridge. Here, shortly after the race, the Boat Race trophy is presented to the winning crew. It is traditional for the winning side to throw their cox into the Thames to celebrate their achievement.

Moved from the original festivities by the stone in Mortlake, these are therefore at the clubhouse by Grove Park, Chiswick, west of the bridge. Nonetheless the arms of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, covering more than half of the Surrey bank, has two griffin supporters that hold oars, one light blue, one dark, in reference to the Boat Race, colours which are 'later tinctures' in English heraldry.

Additional courses[edit]

Men's race

The course for the main part of the race's history has been from Putney to Mortlake, but there have been three other courses:

In addition, there were four unofficial boat races held during the Second World War away from London. As none of those competing were awarded blues, these races are not included in the official list:

Women's race

During its early years (1927 to 1976 with several gaps) the Women's Boat Race alternated between The Isis in Oxford and the River Cam in Cambridge over a distance of about 1,000 yards.[11][66][67] On two occasions, in 1929 and 1935, the race was held on the Tideway in London.[11][12][13] Unlike the men's race, the official women's race continued in most years through the Second World War.[12]

From 1977 to 2014, the women's boat race was held on a 2000-metre course as part of the Henley Boat Races. In 2013 the entire Henley Boat Races was moved to Dorney Lake due to rough water at Henley.[14][15]

  • 2021 — The race will be held on the River Great Ouse from Ely, Cambridgeshire along with the men's race.[47]

Media coverage[edit]

The race first appeared in a short film of the 1895 race entitled "The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race", directed and produced by Birt Acres. Consisting of a single shot of around a minute, it was the first film to be commercially screened in the UK outside London.[68]

The event is now a British national institution, and is televised live each year. The women's race has received television coverage and grown in popularity since 2015, attracting a television audience of 4.8 million viewers that year.[69][70][71] Prior to 2015, the women's race received little media coverage.

BBC Television first covered the men's race in 1938, the BBC having covered it on radio since 1927. For the 2005 to 2009 races, the BBC lost the television rights to ITV, after 66 years, but it returned to the corporation in 2010.[72]

On the radio John Snagge commentated for the BBC from 1930s to the early 1980s on BBC Radio 2. Peter Jones, Brian Johnston and Robert Hudson commentated in the 1980s on BBC Radio 2 and Jon Champion, Tony Adamson and Peter Drury commentated for BBC Radio 5 and 5 Live in the 1990s.

Howard Marshall commentated on the first BBC TV Boat Race in 1938 with a camera at the start and the finish. Desmond Hill commentated for the BBC in the 1960s and Harry Carpenter commentated for the BBC in the 1970s up to 1990 and Gerald Sinstadt commentated in 1991 and 1992 while Barry Davies became the voice of the Boat Race for the BBC for the years 1993 to 2004 and Steve Rider was the host, previous BBC hosts were David Coleman, Frank Bough and Harry Carpenter. Peter Drury then took over as the main commentator for ITV from 2005 to 2009 while coverage was presented by Gabby Logan, then Mark Durden-Smith and finally Craig Doyle.

Andrew Cotter has commentated for the BBC since its return in 2010 with Dan Topolski and Wayne Pommen while Clare Balding has presented usually with Sir Matthew Pinsent, Sir Steve Redgrave and others within the world of rowing. Jonathan Legard commentated on the 2012 Race while Andrew Cotter was at the US Masters for the BBC but has returned in 2013. Barry Davies has returned to commentate on LBC Radio when the TV coverage moved to ITV. BBC World News holds the worldwide rights to the race taking UK coverage.

Ethnographer Mark de Rond described the training, selection, and victory of the 2007 Cambridge crew in The Last Amateurs: To Hell and Back with the Cambridge Boat Race Crew.[73]


Men's race[edit]

The race is for heavyweight eights (i.e. eight rowers with a cox steering), with no restrictions on weight or gender. There have been a number of female coxes – the first to appear in the Boat Race was Sue Brown for Oxford in 1981 – but in practice the rowers are always male.

Although the contest is strictly between amateurs, and the competitors must be students of the university for which they race, the training schedules the teams undertake 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 that it is common for Olympic standard rowers to compete, notably including four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent, who rowed for Oxford in 1990, 1991, and 1993. Olympic gold medallists from 2000James Cracknell (Cambridge 2019), Tim Foster (Oxford 1997), Luka Grubor (Oxford 1997), Andrew Lindsay (Oxford 1997, 1998, 1999) and Kieran West (Cambridge 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007), 2004Ed Coode (Oxford 1998), and 2008Jake Wetzel (Oxford 2006) and Malcolm Howard (Oxford 2013, 2014) have also rowed for their university.

Other famous participants include Andrew Irvine (Oxford 1922, 1923), Lord Snowdon (Cambridge 1950), Colin Moynihan (Oxford 1977), actor Hugh Laurie (Cambridge 1980), TV presenter Dan Snow (Oxford 1999, 2000, 2001) and Conspicuous Gallantry Cross recipient Robin Bourne-Taylor (Oxford 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005).[74]

Academic status[edit]

Oxford University does not offer sport scholarships at entry; student-athletes are not admitted differently to any other students and must meet the academic requirements of the university, with sport having a neutral effect on any application.[75] Likewise, bursaries and scholarship opportunities for athletes at the University of Cambridge are only open to those students who have already been admitted to the University on academic merit.[76]

In order to protect the status of the race as a competition between genuine students, the Cambridge University Blues Committee in July 2007 refused to award a blue to 2006 and 2007 Cambridge oarsman Thorsten Engelmann, as he did not complete his academic course and instead returned to the German national rowing team to prepare for the Beijing Olympics.[77] This has caused a debate about a change of rules, and one suggestion is that only students who are enrolled in courses lasting at least two years should be eligible to race.[78]

Standard of the men's crews[edit]

The question whether the Boat Race crews are up to the standard of international crews is difficult to judge, since the Boat Race crews train for a long-distance race early in the season, so their training schedule is quite different from crews training for international regattas over 2000 metres that take place later in the year.

According to British Olympic gold medallist Martin Cross, Boat Race crews of the early 1980s were viewed as "a bit of a joke" by some international-level rowers of the time. However, their standard has improved substantially since then.[79] Current Boat Race crews do race against some club and international crews in the build-up to the race, and are competitive against them, but again these matches are over various non-standard distances, against crews that might not have been together as long as the Oxbridge crews.

In 2005 a strong Oxford crew, similar to the crew who had rowed in the Boat Race, entered the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, losing to the winning German international crew in the first round by a third of a length. The same year, Cambridge won the Ladies Challenge Plate at the same regatta.

In 2007 Cambridge were entered in the London Head of the River Race, where they should have been measured directly against the best crews in Britain and beyond. However the event was called off after several crews were sunk or swamped in rough conditions. Cambridge were fastest of the few crews who did complete the course.[80]


Men's race

The Boat Race has been sponsored since 1976, with the money spent mainly on equipment and travel during the training period. The sponsors do not have their logos on the boats, but do have their logo on kit during the race. They also provide branded training gear and have some naming rights. Boat Race sponsors have included Ladbrokes, Beefeater Gin, Aberdeen Asset Management, and the business process outsourcing company Xchanging, who sponsored the race until 2012.[81][82] Controversially, in the renewal of the deal with Xchanging, the crews agreed to wear the sponsor's logo on their kit during the race itself, in exchange for increased funding.[83] Prior to this, all sponsorship marks had been scrupulously discarded on boating for the competition, in line with the race's amateur and ‘Corinthian’ spirit. Xchanging also became title sponsor in November 2009 so, from the 156th Race until 2012, the event was known as The Xchanging Boat Race.[84]

In 2013 the sponsor BNY Mellon took over and it became the BNY Mellon Boat Race.[85] From 2016 to 2018, BNY Mellon and Newton Investment management donated the title sponsorship to Cancer Research UK.[86][87][88]

Women's race

The Women's Boat Race 2011 was the first to be sponsored by Newton Investment Management, a subsidiary of BNY Mellon. Previously the crews had no sponsorship and were self funded. Newton have remained the sponsor since then and increased the amount of funding significantly.[9][71]

Other boat races involving Oxford and Cambridge[edit]

Although the Boat Race crews are the best-known, the universities both field reserve crews. The reserves race takes place on the same day as the main race. The Oxford men's reserve crew is called Isis (after the Isis, a section of the River Thames which passes through Oxford), and the Cambridge reserve men's crew is called Goldie (the name comes from rower and Boat Club president John Goldie, 1849–1896, after whom the Goldie Boathouse is named). The women's reserve crews are Osiris (Oxford) and Blondie (Cambridge).

The Henley Boat Races, usually held a week before the Boat Race, host the lightweight men's and women's races and their reserve races. There is also an intercollegiate men's and women's race.

A veterans' boat race, usually held on a weekday before the main Boat Race, takes place on the Thames between Putney and Hammersmith.


Men's race

Training for the Boat Race officially begins in September, before the start of term. The first public 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 Head of the River Fours race in London, which is raced over the reverse Boat Race course, that is to say the Championship course from Mortlake to Putney.

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 such as Kara and Whakamanawa (Māori words for strength and honour, Cambridge 2004) or Cowboys and Indians (Oxford 2004). Other trials boat names have included such pairings as Guns and Roses.

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 the men's crew have raced Leander, Molesey, the German international crew, and a composite crew of Olympic scullers[89]). These races are only over part of the course (from Putney to Chiswick Eyot).

In case of injury or illness, each university men's crew has ten extra rowers, eight in the reserve boats Isis and Goldie, and two as the spare pair. Isis and Goldie race 30 mins before the Blue Boat event over the same course. As for the spare pair, in the week before the main event they race each other from the mile post to university stone (i.e. from a point one mile into the Championship Course back to the Boat Race start). In the final week, there is also an official weigh in and the average crew weights are announced. The perceived slight advantage of being the heavier crew leads to the practice of drinking large volumes of water directly before the weigh in order to artificially increase weight for a short period of time.[90]

Popular culture[edit]

Boat race became such a popular phrase that it was incorporated into Cockney rhyming slang, for "face".[91]

In the stories of P. G. Wodehouse, several characters allude to Boat Race night as a time of riotous celebration (presumably after the victory of the character's alma mater). This frequently sees the participants in trouble with the authorities. In Piccadilly Jim, it is mentioned that Lord Datchett was thrown out of the Empire Music Hall every year on Boat Race night while he was an undergraduate. Bertie Wooster mentions he is "rather apt to let myself go a bit on Boat Race night"[92] and several times describes being fined five pounds at "Bosher Street" (possibly a reference to Bow Street Magistrates' Court) for stealing a policeman's helmet one year; the beginning of the first episode of the television series Jeeves and Wooster shows his court appearance on this occasion.[93] In the short story Jeeves and the Chump Cyril, he describes having to repeatedly bail out of jail a friend who is arrested every year on Boat Race night.

In Missee Lee by Arthur Ransome (one of the Swallows and Amazons series of children's books) Captain Flint (who had dropped out of Oxford) tells Missee Lee he was in gaol once on Boat-race night. High spirits. A fancy for policemen's helmets. When Missee Lee says Camblidge won and evellybody happy he replies Not that year, ma'am. We were the happy ones that year.[94]

In the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge the protagonist's teacher Mr Wilkins is a former Cambridge rowing blue.[95]

The 1969 film The Magic Christian features the Boat Race, as Sir Guy makes use of the Oxford crew in one of his elaborate pranks.


Men's race
Oxford in 1890 (winner)
Cambridge in 1890

A selection of the more frequently cited statistics includes:

  • Number of wins: Cambridge, 84; Oxford, 80 (1 dead heat)[1]
  • Most consecutive victories: Cambridge, 13 (1924–36)[1]
  • Course record: Cambridge, 1998 – 16 min 19 sec; average speed 24.9 kilometres per hour (15.5 mph)[1]
  • Narrowest winning margin, excluding the dead heat: 1 foot (Oxford, 2003)[1]
  • Largest winning margin: 35 lengths (Cambridge, 1839)[1]
  • Most races: Boris Rankov, 6 (Oxford, 1978–83)
  • Heaviest rower: Thorsten Engelmann, Cambridge 2007, 17 st 6 lb 4 oz (110.8 kg; 244 lb)
  • Lightest rower: Alfred Higgins, Oxford 1882, 9 st 6.5 lb (60.1 kg; 132.5 lb)
  • Heaviest crew: Oxford 2009, 15 st 9 lb 13 oz (99.7 kg; 219.7 lb) average
  • Tallest rower: James Letten, 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m)[96]
  • Tallest crew: Cambridge 1999, 6 ft 6.3 in (1.98 m) average
  • Oldest rower: James Cracknell, Cambridge 2019, 46 years 348 days
  • Oldest cox: Andy Probert, Cambridge 1992, 38 yrs 86 days
  • Reserve wins: Cambridge (Goldie), 29; Oxford (Isis), 24[97]
  • Most successful station: Surrey 78; Middlesex 76 (as of 2018)
Women's race
  • Course record: Cambridge, 2017 – 18 min 33 sec (faster, in different conditions, than the Cambridge men's Blue Boat in 2016 and the Oxford men's in 2014)[1][7]


Cumulative wins by Oxford and Cambridge men's and women's blue and reserve boats (in the SVG file, hover over a graph to highlight it)
Men's race

There have been 165 official races in 190 years.

Decade Total races Cambridge wins Oxford wins Notes
1820s 1 0 1
1830s 2 2 0
1840s 7 5 2
1850s 6 2 4
1860s 10 1 9
1870s 10 7 2 1 dead heat
1880s 10 5 5
1890s 10 1 9
1900s 10 7 3
1910s 5 1 4
1920s 10 9 1
1930s 10 8 2
1940s 4 3 1
1950s 10 7 3
1960s 10 5 5
1970s 10 5 5
1980s 10 1 9
1990s 10 7 3
2000s 10 3 7
2010s 10 5 5
2020s Cancelled for now
Total 165 84 80 1 dead heat


Women's race

There have been 74 races in 93 years.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]