Cambridge and Oxford prepare for Boat Race battle

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
boat race 2010 To lose the Boat Race is undisputedly the most crushing defeat in sport

The Boat Race is one of the premier events of the year, synonymous with sporting tradition in Great Britain. It’s perched amongst other marvels in the British calendar like the Grand National, Wimbledon and the FA Cup final.

The formalities of Chelsea’s clash with Manchester United will be completed and London will come to a standstill as Cambridge and Oxford tussle for 17 oxygen-deprived minutes.

The crews will depart from Putney Bridge, past Craven Cottage as they wind around the elongated corner, sheltered briefly from the conditions as they move under Hammersmith Bridge and reach the Chiswick steps.

At this point just over a mile will stand in their way, providing little alleviation from the unmerciful agony writhing through sixteen bodies, their lungs screaming for a moment of respite as the two coxes bark out encouragement.

The coxes will veer right as they approach the finish line, easily identifiable by the landmark  Chiswick Bridge. Cue exuberant celebrations; punching of water, clenching of fists, and for the unfortunate losers, their facial expression will betray their feelings as they are left morosely pondering quite simply where it all went wrong.

Forget John Terry’s tears post penalty miss in Moscow, a sobbing Andy Murray after a spanking at the hands of a certain Swiss ace down under; to lose the Boat Race is indisputably the most crushing defeat in sport.

The painstaking preparation which each member of the respective crews must partake in to fulfil his quest for victory is simply heroic. Normal people enjoy socialising with friends, the freedom to eat all sorts of toxic food and the opportunity to pursue a career, a life.

These men clad in the light blue of Cambridge and the dark blue of Oxford submit themselves to their coaches and must channel their energy into training. If they aren’t on the ergo or lifting weights, these ambitious men will be studying.

The long road to April 3 begins in September as potential heroes meet and vie from that point onwards for a place in the Universities’ respective eight boat.

As many as 40 oarsmen begin the lengthy process with the trimming of both squads continuing until both Cambridge and Oxford boats are carefully picked. The unlucky ones grasp the shell of the reserve boats as they complete the prequel to the main event racing under the guise of Godie (Cambridge) and Isis (Oxford).

The history books are waiting to be revamped with the defending Oxford crew eclipsed on the weighing scales by a heavier Cambridge, the difference stretching to a minute 3.8kg.

But then the microscopic details can be the telling difference in this long distance race. One blade entering the water out of sync amongst an average of 600 strokes could prove the decisive factor in this battle with the course lasting a lengthy four miles and 374 yards.

Despite facing the mite of a larger crew Oxford remain firm favourites to retain the prestigious accolade of Boat Race winners with their coxswain, Adam Barhamand, favourite to be dunked in the Thames.

Martin Walsh, who is seated in two in the Oxford crew, will become the first Irishman to feature in either Blue Boat for over 20 years ensuring there will be a strong Irish interest in the outcome of the 156th event.

In 1829 a student from Cambridge initially sparked the rivalry by challenging an Oxford counterpart to a daring race at Henley-on-Thames. Cambridge are determined to once more usurp their rivals for the first time in two years.

Their vice-president,  Rob Weitemeyer, has vowed to avenge last year’s defeat citing that the group of athletes this year in the light blue boat are “more powerful” than previous boats.

The race will feature oarsmen hailing from different parts of the world including the USA, Canada, Netherlands, Ireland and of course Great Britain. The event draws a much wider audience worldwide.

Last year over 7.6 million viewers tuned in to ITV last year. The race will be broadcast on BBC this year after their rival network opted to pump funds into  securing television rights for football games. The frenetic, fraught events are screened in over 112 countries.

Its appeal is undeniable, its attraction is unique.

Whether you understand the complexities of each rowing stroke or just enjoy watching the ancient rivalry unfold on the river Thames it makes for captivating viewing on a Saturday afternoon.

Forget pampered prima donnas lapping up the adoration from enthused fans. Escape from the thought of debt-ridden clubs funded by crooks, who are eager to line their pockets and extract the soul from football.

For one afternoon switch off the chirpy Jeff Stelling and watch an event that captures the true spirit of sport. Allow yourself to be hypnotised by 18 seemingly ordinary men who go beyond the ordinary producing Trojan efforts, not for the want of greed, or of fame but self gratification.

Unquestionably Britain is a nation which appreciates the efforts of these elite athletes as they crave their own little bit of history which will be inscribed in the rowing analogues eternally.

But for these oarsmen it is inconsequential that their names will be recorded as competitors in the 2010 Xchanging  Boat Race. What matters is being remembered as the winners. There’s no prize for second place.

Four time Olympic gold medallist, Sir Matthew Pinsent, described the overwhelming emotions which overcame him as a 19-year-old competitor in the Boat Race as “a sporting life or death”.

To transform and exploit a phrase which emanated from an enigmatic Scot: Some people think this boat race is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it is much more serious than that.

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