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The Boat Race
The Boat Race is an annual competition between Oxford University and the University of Cambridge, a fierce rivalry that is followed closely by locals, alumnus, and fans. The race takes place on the Tideway, between Putney and Mortlake, and in addition to being a crowd favourite, the sport is broadcast to many more millions on television. The year 2012 marks the race’s 158th time in competition. So far, Cambridge is in the lead with 80 victories, compared with 76 wins for Oxford, and one tie in 1877.
The history of The Boat Race began when the Cambridge University Boat Club was formally founded in 1828; the Oxford University Boat Club opened in 1839. The clubs recruit and train new talent, and manage their respective teams in the Boat Race competition each year.
The first Boat Race competition was held in 1829 in Henley on the River Thames based on a friendly challenge. The rowing race that was originally set for February 10, 1829, but due to a delay in arrangements, didn’t actually take place until June 10 of the same year. Oxford won the first race, and the winning boat is on display to this day at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley.
The next few years saw races held on and off; it wasn’t until 1836 that the Boat Race was moved to London and the second race was held between Westminster to Putney. This course remained unchanged up until 1842. The race in 1845 ran from Putney all the way to Mortlake, followed by racing on in 1846, 1856, and 1863. The Boat Race became an official annual event in 1856.
Over the years, boating technology, rowing techniques, and coaching methods continued to evolve, often challenging the racing rules as to what was acceptable for competition. In 1877 the first and only tie, or “dead-heat” was recorded between the two rivals. Critics note that in 1877 there was no defined finish line, a mistake that was never repeated with races from 1878 to the present. Others question the integrity of the judge who made the tie call, “Honest” John Phelps. He was replaced the next year with Edward Ferrie.
Races were temporarily suspended after 1914 in light of World War I, and didn’t resume until 1920. The BBC first broadcast the Boat Race in 1927, a game in which Cambridge won by five lengths. However, the first fully-televised race wasn’t broadcast until 1949. The added bonus of corporate sponsors has allowed both colleges to further invest in their respective teams for advanced techniques, coaching methods, and boating technology.
In 1980, Cambridge rower Hugh Laurie debuted in the race, son of former Cambridge president Ran Laurie. Hugh Laurie is now better known as playing the part of the formidable Dr. Gregory House on Fox’s House.
Cambridge University holds the best time, with a race record of 16 minutes and 19 seconds in 1998. The also hold the record for slowest winning time with 26 minutes and 56 seconds in 1860. Timing posts are set up at the Mile Post, Hammersmith Bridge, Chiswick Step, Barnes Bridge, and the Finish.
The Cambridge team is decked out in light blue, and Oxford wears dark blue. Both team train for approximately two hours for every stroke. The race course is about 60 strokes long. The crews train for over seven months, at least three hours each day for six days a week.