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Last Updated: Monday, 31 March, 2003, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Rowing back the years
Oxford and Cambridge in action in 2001
The Thames has hosted many enthralling encounters
The Boat Race is the annual rowing contest between England's two oldest and most famous universities.

Oxford and Cambridge University have been battling against each other over four-and-a-quarter miles on the River Thames for 174 years.

Two friends, Charles Merival who was at Cambridge, and Charles Wordsworth (nephew of the poet William Wordsworth), a student at Oxford, decided to hold a race between the universities.

On 12 March 1829, Cambridge challenged Oxford and a tradition was born.

The race was successful and the Henley Royal Regatta, now the most famous regatta in the world, was established.

However, by the time the two crews next met, they had abandoned Henley for London.

The race was initially held on the Thames from Westminster to Putney.

Oxford - 70 wins
Cambridge - 77 wins
One dead heat in 1877
1829: First race
1856: First annual race
1912: Both crews sank
1924-36: Cambridge win a record 13 in a row
1954: 100th Boat Race
1976-85: Oxford win 10 in a row
1987-92: Oxford make it 16 wins in 17 years
But because of overcrowding in the centre of the capital, the universities found a new location between Putney and Mortlake in 1845.

Within 11 years, it became an annual event that has continued through to the 21st century - but for the two World Wars.

Each year, the loser of the previous year's event challenges the winner to a new race.

In the early years of the Boat Race, the crews wore no distinguishing colours.

However, in 1836 Oxford selected dark blue to race in, the colour of their stroke-man's college (Christ Church), and Cambridge adopted the "duck egg blue" of Eton.

Cambridge are the more successful university, and in 1936 celebrated a record 13th consecutive win.

For their part Oxford won 10 in a row from 1976 and also racked up two nine race streaks - from 1861 to 1869 and again from 1890 to 1898.

But both crews have not always been able to make the finish.

Cambridge sank in 1859, and then suffered the embarrassment of going under water just a mile from the finish in 1978.

Their rivals have endured a similar fate.

Course record: 16.19 mins
(Cambridge in 1998)
Biggest win: 20 lengths
(Cambridge in 1900)
Smallest win: A canvas (4ft)
(Oxford in 1952 and 1980)
Sinkings: Three
(Cambridge in 1859 and 1978, Oxford in 1925)
Oxford sunk in 1925, and in 1951 they lost the rescheduled race after falling foul to rough waters in the initial clash.

Both boats went down in 1912 - a matter of weeks before the Titanic followed suit.

The most recent sinking occurred in 1984, when Cambridge went down after ramming a barge before they were even under starter's orders.

The remains of the boat now have pride of place in a Cambridge public house.

With about six million people expected to watch on BBC TV and an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million the race is a huge attraction.

The BBC first broadcast running commentary in 1927, and 11 years later covered the race on television for the first time.

The average time taken to complete the course is 20 minutes, but Cambridge holds the record of 16 minutes and 19 seconds, achieved in 1998.

The current score stands at 77 to Cambridge, 70 to Oxford, with one controversial dead heat in 1877.

Legend has it that the judge at the finish, "Honest John" Phelps, was asleep under a bush as the crews raced past.

When awakened and asked the result he said: "Dead heat to Oxford by four feet."

Links to more Boat Race 2003 stories


History of The Boat Race

History of The Boat Race

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