History will be made on the Tideway this weekend as the women of Oxford and Cambridge join their male counterparts in what will from this year be known as The Boat Races. Over in East London, however, gender is of little significance in what has become another firm annual tradition.

Now in its seventh year, The Goat Race raises around £10,000 annually for Spitalfields City Farm. Here’s some video from last year’s event. It’s not exactly clear who won.

A dead heat has occurred only once in Boat Race history but should the same happen in the Spitalfields version, the title will be awarded to the goat who can eat a carrot the quickest. There are lots more facts on the race here and there are tickets available from the official site here

This Friday evening sees an “Alternative Boat Race” run by the RNLI, featuring 250 miniature boats floating from Barnes Bridge to Chiswick Bridge.

That event starts at 530pm, a good hour after the women’s reserve race, pitting Blondie and Osiris, is due to come through. Should the crews get entangled with the RNLI, though, it wouldn’t be the first encounter of Tideway fortnight. The Oxford women’s blue boat was swamped in rough water 10 days before their big race and required assistance to get home.


Come on Oxford

Posted by Chiswick RNLI on Thursday, 2 April 2015


One small step for women

If lifeboat rescues aren’t ideal in finally winning over the critics, it’s worth pausing a moment ahead of Saturday’s Women’s Boat Race and considering just how far the event has come even in this decade.

The work of turning the Women’s Boat Race crews from some of the best in the country to some of the best in the world only began in 2012, when the announcement of the move from Henley to the Tideway was made


Ten years ago, sponsorship of the men's Boat Race ran at around £1.5m annually, with two thirds of that going to the cost of holding the race in London and the rest to the respective programmes of the two clubs. Meanwhile the women's clubs ran on less than £50,000 a year, much of it self-funded. 

Newton's sponsorship of the 2011 race was worth about £25k. Even assuming sponsorship of the men hasn't moved on much, the two women's clubs must be getting at least £250,000 this year to help with training and infrastructure. 

At the big announcement back in 2012, former Osiris coach Sir Matt Pinsent told me: "To this day one of the big attributes of someone in the squad is that they have their own car." Those sponsored minibuses are a small but vital step towards parity.

Three of Oxford's top oarswomen did not compete in the 2012 Women's Boat Race. Brianna Stubbs and Ellie Piggott wanted to concentrate on rowing as lightweights at the World Under-23 Championships, while Natalie Redgrave felt she had been there and done that after the previous year's win.

This year, at least one leading Oxford oarswoman has chosen not to take part in Great Britain trials for fear of it getting in the way of earning a place in the blue boat. And of course the Oxford stroke seat is occupied by triple Olympic medallist Caryn Davies - the most decorated athlete to row in a Boat Race of any sort.

Mutterings continue as to the relative speeds of the two crews. In January, Oxford beat Imperial College by 22 seconds at Quintin Head, and IC went on to beat Cambridge by 12 seconds at the Women’s Eights Head in March. However, head-to-head racing is a different beast.

In an interview for Rowing & Regatta magazine recently, former CUWBC chair Annamarie Phelps told me: “The amount of times I’ve been sat down by men saying, ‘We don’t want to have one crew six lengths in front of the other,’ slightly irks me because we had 100 years of men’s crews doing that.

“It would be really nice if we have a good race for a bit of the course.”

Yes, the men are racing on Saturday too, but they do that every year.


Old enough to know better?

Canadian Olympian Barney Williams grew to love the Tideway so much in his two winning years at Oxford that he named his first child Hammersmith. Barney is back for more this year in the stroke seat of the dark blue crew in the Veterans' Boat Race, bidding to end a three-year run of Cambridge success.

The race starts at 11am on Friday and runs on the ebb tide from Hammersmith to Putney. Should the dark blues triumph this time it is to be hoped there is no repeat of the scenes of 2005, when a photo appeared in The Sun newspaper of Williams and his victorious Oxford crew celebrating in the shower post-race. The pic - taken by some foreign students from Anglia Ruskin, the Rowup understands - was photoshopped with canoe paddles to cover the crew's modesty.

The Cambridge Vets will provide stiff opposition with stern pair Bernd Heidecker and Sebastian Schulte from the German world champion eight of 2006. David Dix becomes the first Rugby Blue to compete in the VBR. Olympic champ Jonny Searle sits at seven for Oxford and Zoe de Toledo coxes.


Lightweight nail-biters

As ever, Henley hosted the other Boat Races a week before the big event on the Tideway, managing a successful day this year even without the draw of the openweight women, thanks in part to two nail-biting lightweight races. 


Oxford were rowed down in the women’s lightweight race, the Cambridge winning by three feet. The light light-blue men kept it almost as close and an appeal from Oxford over a blade clash at the finish kept the tension high before a four-foot verdict was announced. 


HoRR phew!

After two years hit by bad weather, the Head of the River Race went off without a hitch despite another dodgy weather forecast but there was a feeling that the event dodged a bullet in avoiding a third-straight cancellation. 


Contingency plans were in place including a shorter course, finishing in Hammersmith, should the last third of the course prove unrowable as it did last year. They weren’t needed though. 

If the Women’s Eights Head and Schools Head can take place without problems, then HoRR organisers could claim they have just been victim to some freak weather but with competitor numbers tumbling this year (327 crews racing this year compared to the usual maximum of 420) their hands might have been forced into some sort of change - perhaps a move later in the calendar – had another race fallen foul of the weather. 

Well done in particular to Leander, Thames RC, Oxford Brookes University and Agecroft RC. Here’s why. 



Hodge takes season off

Molesey BC raced without their former captain and double Olympic champion Andy Triggs Hodge and it emerged the following week that he will miss the 2015 season because of a recurrence of glandular fever that has prevented him training all year.

After speaking to Hodge for his blog, Dan “Fatsculler” Spring wrote: “My gut feel is that, sadly, we shan’t be seeing Andy racing for GB again.”

Hodge also took the opportunity to criticise the GB Rowing Team’s policy of not allowing boat-specific sponsorship, which he feels is limiting his earning potential. Individual sponsorship are still allowed, though, and the likes of Helen Glover take advantage of that.


Coleraine mourns Platt

The town of Coleraine in Northern Ireland has a population of just over 24,000 but it produced three Olympic rowing medallists at London 2012. Greater London produced 10 medallists from a population of 8.1 million. A big reason for Coleraine’s success was coach Bobby Platt, who died recently aged 94.

One of Platt’s proteges was Alan Campbell, who went on to win Olympic bronze in the single. Campbell told me two years ago: “When I was in the fifth form in 1999, our J16 four won everything in Northern Ireland and I thought we would go to the Irish Championships but two of the guys decided to go to Disneyland instead, and the other wasn’t really fussed.

“Bobby was determined if I wanted to do the single then he would make it happen. We drove a whole trailer to Cork [300 miles away] with just my single on it. 

“Everyone there knew him. People would stop me and say, ‘You’re Bobby’s boy, are you?’ He was a bit of a celebrity.”

The latest athlete off the Coleraine production line is Joel Cassells, 20, who has won silver medals at the last two World Rowing U23 championships. He was profiled recently on the British Rowing website.


Redgrave admits Athens plan

Almost broken by training for four more years to win his fifth successive Olympic gold medal, Sir Steve Redgrave has revealed that he considered returning for a sixth attempt at Athens in 2004. His coach Jurgen Grobler had other ideas.

“A couple of days later, he looked at me across the room at Leander and shook his head. We never discussed it again. It was probably right.”

Sir Steve, now chairman of Henley Royal Regatta, was giving interviews to help promote the televising of the regatta for the first time since Dickie Davies (if you don’t remember Dickie Davies, you certainly won’t remember seeing Henley on telly). 

Sunset + Vine, who produce cricket and horse racing for Channel 4, are the company behind the production for Henley’s YouTube channel and Michael Cole, a former BBC producer who oversaw the 2012 Olympic regatta, is editorial director. 


Grainger’s options

Which boat will Katherine Grainger compete in in her comeback season? The prosaic answer is whichever combination produces the best percentage of gold medal time in internal testing – which takes place this month before public singles trials on 19 April. However Grainger gave a bit of a tease in this interview with the Guardian

Key quotes on that front:

“One of the loveliest things about our sport is that it is team-based.”

“I’ve got a soft spot for smaller boats but the partnership is crucial.”

“He’s obviously got the [coxless] pair that will be leading the charge in their event and that’s sewn up with Heather Stanning and Helen Glover.”

“On the sculling side we’ve got a single, a double and a quad option. Singles is unlikely to be a priority but I’ve raced both of the others.”

There is some great insight into her gold-medal partnership with Anna Watkins too – worth a read.


And finally

Is this the best gym erg video ever? If you’ve seen better, do get in touch! 


Workout of the day!

Posted by Artur Gajevskij on Tuesday, March 31, 2015



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