Recently, the 163rd edition of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race occurred, with both sides seeking to attain victory, and ultimately the position as the more accomplished side. The 6.8km race, in which the rowers pass multiple landmarks located on the riverside, seems to produce intriguing encounters, with both teams often competing to row on what is deemed the best water. With Cambridge the reigning champions, it may have been a fair suggestion to deem them the favourites, yet Oxford’s experience, combined with starting on the Surrey station, perhaps holding them in good stead. It was indeed Oxford who won the men’s event, their 80th victory, enabling them to narrow the gap between themselves and Cambridge in the all-time standings, perhaps providing them with the necessary motivation to ultimately overtake their rivals for the first time since 1928.
Both teams consist of students from the two Universities, and with the race first contested in 1829, it seems the event has managed to ensure longevity. Annually held since 1856, victories have often been shared, with a solitary draw recorded in 1877. In addition, a consistent factor seems to be the vast amount of Olympians representing the sides, perhaps leading to an increase in performance from the whole team, as in aiming to replicate the achievements of their colleagues, they may wish to elevate their standards. As such, it seems the majority of rowers may be eligible to represent their respective countries, perhaps leading to an influx of already experienced athletes heading to future Olympic tournaments.
With Cambridge the reigning champions, many plaudits may have deemed them the favourites, and they seemed highly motivated as they aimed to reiterate their position as the most accomplished team. Yet, Oxford may have been superiorly equipped due to the experience of their team, with a handful of members having represented their country at the Rio Olympics; this included Dutchman Olivier Siegelaar, who won the bronze medal in the Men’s Eight. This may also highlight the prestige of the race, as athletes with expansive repertoires possess the desire to compete. Indeed, Oxford seemed to start at a higher standard, entering a one length lead by Craven Cottage, and ultimately holding a water advantage by Hammersmith Bridge. Whilst Cambridge did seem to narrow the difference, Oxford eventually won by a margin of one and a quarter lengths. As such, both teams may be able to utilise the event productively: Oxford due to their race victory, and Cambridge due to consistent performance during the race.
Whilst Oxford won the men’s event, the other three races resulted in victories for both sides, suggesting both teams’ possession of accomplished rowers across various categories may have been contributing to competitive encounters. It seemed to be in the women’s race where Cambridge may be able to draw the most productive outcomes, as when Rebecca Esselstein, Oxford’s fourth seat, caught a crab upon the start line, Cambridge capitalised on the opportunity, utilising both their positon on the Surrey side of the river, and essentially their head start to race into what seemed a convincing lead. They seemed to aim for the course record, and ultimately achieved it, crossing the line after 18 minutes and 33 seconds. Whilst the record time may naturally be the reasoning they gain the plaudits, their consistent maintenance of race pace, along with winning for the first time since 2012, may act as the incentive for the team to extend their lead versus the rivals.
Both sides have now amassed 80 victories or more, which whilst showcasing the ability, and strength in depth, both teams seem to possess, it may also prove the rivalry between the Universities, and perhaps how they motivate each other to strive to perform at their peak capabilities. Ultimately, with the victories between the two sides, with both Oxford and Cambridge recording two wins, and a combination of experienced veterans and promising youth prospects boasted by both sides, beneficial outcomes may occur for the British, and other European, Olympic teams, as the race may act as the transitional phase to ease them to the top level.
How may the rowers use this race as a stepping stone in becoming part of the British Olympic team?