Everything you need to know about the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race 2017

How to watch the University Boat Race, useful facts and bookies' odds: Your guide to everything that's happening out on the River Thames

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The annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge will take place this Sunday 2 April, when teams of eight super-fit students will row as fast as humanly possible from Putney to Chiswick Bridge.

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Here is everything you need to know.

What time does the Boat Race start? 

The 163rd Boat Race will be broadcast on BBC1 from 4pm-6.25pm on Sunday 2nd April. Clare Balding will present live coverage of the women’s and men’s University Boat Races. 

The 72nd Women’s Boat Race is due to start at 4.35pm. The men’s race will follow at 5.35pm, about an hour before high tide so the crews are rowing with the current.

Each team’s reserve crew will also take part in a race: the women’s at 4.50pm and the men’s at 5.05pm. Oxford’s reserve boats are called Isis (the men’s) and Osiris (the women’s), and Cambridge’s are Goldie (men’s) and Blondie (women’s). 

Each race should be over in around 18 minutes, though the record for the fastest time is held by Cambridge who managed 16 minutes and 19 seconds in 1998.

How can I watch the Boat Race in London?

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If you want to leave the comfort of your sofa and join the crowds along the river bank, you will find good vantage points at Putney, Hammersmith, Barnes and Chiswick (particularly the bridges).

There are also events from midday at Bishops Park, Fulham and Furnival Gardens, and at Hammersmith, where big screens will allow you to follow the action once the boats have shot past. 

Who’s in light blue and who’s in dark blue?

Cambridge crews wear light blue, while Oxford wear dark blue. 

Who will win this year?

Oxford is the hot favourite to win. 

William Hill reports that Oxford is now odd-on to win at 2/5. Cambridge is a long shot at 7/4. 

“We initially thought that with a number of returning crew members and being significantly heavier than their opponents, last year’s victorious Cambridge boat would be comfortable favourites, however, it has been one way traffic for Oxford,” said William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly.

BetStars also has odds of 7/4 for Cambridge and 2/5 for Oxford, while Coral has Cambridge at 2-1 and Oxford at 4-11.

Who won last year?

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Cambridge were victorious in 2016 in the men’s boat race, while the Oxford women’s team claimed the title. 

Who has won the most, Oxford or Cambridge? 

The two are pretty evenly matched: Oxford has won 79 times and Cambridge 82, with one draw. 

What is the route of the boat race?

The course is exactly four miles and 374 yards long – or 6.8 km. The teams will row along the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake in south-west London. 

Both teams will start the race just after Putney Bridge. They will pass by Fulham and glide under Hammersmith Bridge where huge crowds will gather to watch. After navigating the long bend in the river at the mid-way, they’ll come towards the end at Barnes Bridge and then finish just before Chiswick Bridge, near Mortlake train station.

What is the history of the Boat Race?

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The first race took place in Henley in 1829. Two friends who had met at Harrow School – poet William Wordsworth’s nephew Charles Wordsworth (an Oxford student) and Charles Merrivale (Cambridge) went rowing together during the vacation and came up with an idea. A letter was sent stating “that the University of Cambridge hereby challenge the University of Oxford to row a match at or near London, each in an eight-oared boat during the ensuing Easter vacation.”

Over the next few decades there were irregular races, sometimes in the opposite direction on the ebb tide. It finally became an annual event in 1856. The boats were still pretty rudimentary, and the races very amateur as the boats were forced to stop by steamers and collided with barges. Later everything became slicker, the boats better, the training harder, and the crews fitter. 

The women’s boat race was founded in 1927 but only became a regular event in the mid 60s. The first event took place in Oxford, where men gathered on the towpath to object to the women rowing (so unladylike!). Later it found a home in Henley, but in 2015 the women’s race moved to the River Thames in London and the race was televised for the first time alongside the men’s. 

During World War II there were no official races because of the bombing and the danger of crowding together, but three unofficial races were held, in Henley and in Ely.

A Boat Race glossary

Station: There is a coin toss hours before the race to decide which side – or “station” – each team will race on. Each station has advantages and disadvantages because of the bends in the river, which can put them ahead or behind at different points in the race. Both crews must keep to their stations unless they have a lead of “clear water”, in which case they can veer into the opposite station. 

Middlesex: The “station” closest to the north bank of the river: the Fulham/Chiswick side. 

Surrey: The “station” closest to the south bank of the river: the Putney/Barnes side. 

Blue Boats: The boats taking part in the race. Each member of the crew will also be awarded a “blue” for taking part in the race on behalf of their university. 

Caught a crab: An error where the rower does not get their oar blade out of the water in time, and the blade acts as a brake on the boat. 

Fun facts about the Boat Race

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  • The University Boat Race always has a head umpire who is an “old Blue”, with Cambridge and Oxford taking it in turns to provide an umpire. The umpire has the authority to disqualify a crew, though the last time this happened was in the reserve race in 1990 between Cambridge’s Goldie and Oxford’s Isis. 
  • In 2001, the umpire Rupert Obholzer stopped the race just over a minute after the start after a clash of blades dislodged a rower’s oar. Obholzer had repeatedly warned both crews to move apart. The decision was highly contentious, especially as Oxford had originally been in the lead but Cambridge went on to win. 
  • The only dead heat occurred in 1877. The odds of having one this year have been set by the bookmakers at 100-1. 
  • The smallest winning margin on record is one foot, when Oxford triumphed in 2003. The largest is Cambridge at 35 lengths in 1839.
  • Male coxes must now weigh at least 55kg.
  • There have been six sinkings in the history of the Boat Race. In 1912, both boats sank and the race had to be rescheduled for the following day. 

Whatever happened to Trenton Oldfield?

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The events of the 2012 boat race were some of the most dramatic in its long history. Everything was going along smoothly, the rowers had reached Chiswick Pier, and then suddenly all the boats stopped and a man’s head was seen bobbing around in the water. That man was Trenton Oldfield, an Australian national educated at LSE who said he was making “a protest against inequalities in British society” and a “culture of elitism”.

The race had to be stopped as Oldfield was in grave danger of being run over by the flotilla following behind the two boats. It was later restarted, but the disruption was a major challenge for the rowers who had poured all their energy into the race only to have it interrupted. Immediately after the race, Oxford’s bow man Alex Woods collapsed and lost consciousness and had to be taken to hospital.

On his blog Oldfield compared his actions to those of Emily Davison, the suffragette killed after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby in 1913. He was jailed for six months for causing a public nuisance and fined £750. He was also refused leave to remain in the country and was set to be deported, but successfully appealed the judgement (partly with the help of Oxbridge dons and rowers who felt it was an overreaction). He now works as a coordinator at This Is Not A Gateway with his partner Deepa Naik, an organisation trying to tackle the idea “that cities are good for you”.

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The Boat Race will be broadcast on BBC1 from 4pm-6.25pm on Sunday 2nd April