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Last Updated: Friday, 19 March, 2004, 11:15 GMT
What's it all about?
By BBC Sport's Mark Davies
Former Cambridge cox between 1992 and 1995

University Boat Race
"Oh no. Not Oxford and Cambridge in the final again."
Ah, the Varsity Boat Race - the epitome of Corinthian sport, or the sporting world's biggest anachronism? It depends on who you talk to.

There's probably more rubbish talked about the Boat Race than about any other event in the sporting calendar.

"Always the same two teams in the final", "Oxford and Cambridge aren't anything like as good as some of the other universities" and "it's always a procession" are some of the lines trotted out.

But it's worth looking at a few facts. Since 1992, five of Britain's Olympic gold medallists at Sydney have been Oxbridge oarsmen, including Matthew Pinsent and Tim Foster.

There have also been countless Olympic and World Championship finalists who have worn either dark or light blue.

The more you understand about the sport, the more interesting it becomes
The standard of rowing at the two universities is currently right at the very top of what the country has to offer.

And as for there never being any exciting racing - the last decade has produced some fantastic encounters.

In 1992, Oxford didn't break away until Barnes, having rowed all the way round Surrey virtually neck-and-neck and in 1996 Cambridge returned the compliment.

The last two years have seen the most exciting races in recent years, with Oxford pipping Cambridge on both occasions.

So why does the Boat Race get so looked down on by so many people?

First of all, it's because rowing isn't the best spectator sport - especially for the uninitiated.

Most people who watch the Boat Race do so because of its history - it has a worldwide television audience of around 400million from 180 countries.

So, those who want to watch a sporting spectacle assume that that is the only reason for its importance.


In fact, the more you understand about the sport - as is true of many others including, no doubt, curling - the more interesting it becomes.

For example in the 2001 race, Cambridge were taking a couple of inches every stroke, because their blades were being buried about five frames more quickly than Oxford's.

Have a look at a video of the race and you can tell.

The trouble with that is often what makes the difference between winning and losing happens not in a sudden moment, but inexorably over the course of a number of minutes.

The process might be delayed by one crew pushing and another having a bad patch, but many times, the result of the race has something of a gradual inevitability about it, fashioned in the opening strokes by the rhythm a crew strikes.

That's a far cry from your usual sport: it's hardly got the drama of a last-minute David Beckham free kick.

But that doesn't make it bad sport. Arguably, it makes it better sport - because what is being achieved is the result of hours of dedication - thousands of strokes over hundreds of miles, in all sorts of conditions.

The Boat Race will always have its detractors. But the men taking part are as fit as any sportsman you want to name, and have put in as many hours of training as anyone at the peak of more popular sports.

To do all that for one race which many people rubbish is either gross stupidity, or the sort of dedication that we should applaud.

Links to more Boat Race 2004 stories



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