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  Friday, 23 March, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Tough times on the Thames
Cambridge put in some practice on the River Thames
The 147th University Boat Race is being broadcast live in Grandstand on BBC One and on Sport Online on 24 March from 1300 GMT.

By Mark Davies

The prospects for a slow Boat Race on Saturday are growing ever larger, as rain continues to plague the South East.

Conditions in Putney on Friday morning were unlike any seen for many years, with water levels so high that the island which the crews pass eight minutes into the race - Chiswick Eyot - almost completely submerged at the peak of the tide.

Race organisers are concerned that this year, the race might take so long that the tide might even have turned before the finish, leaving the crews to row against the run of the water for the first time in the modern era.

The amount of water flowing out to sea, and against the tidal water flowing in, will also make the 147th Boat Race an interesting tactical battle.

Traditionally, the coxes fight for the centre of the stream, where the water runs fastest.

But with so little flow, there's every chance that we could see the boats cutting the corners of the course for the first time ever.

Unknown territory

Race umpire Rupert Obholzer, who stroked Oxford in 1991, is aware that conditions are exceptional.

He has told the coxes that he will allow them to move away from the traditional course off the start, but will not tolerate either steersman trying to take advantage.

There has never been a disqualification in the Boat Race, but if the crews were to clash outside what is considered the 'normal line', one cox would in theory be at fault.

But if conditions force the boats into unknown territory, it will become highly questionable what the proper course should be.

So while the boats stay side by side, the role of the umpire will be kety, and the nerves of the coxswains is likely to be on edge. And if one crew breaks early, the opposition may be able to try to steer for advantage in a way not normally possible.

Cambridge are heavily backed to win on Saturday, and their practice starts on Friday suggested that they are in good shape.

But the 147th Boat Race might well have a surprise or two up its sleeve.

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