The Boat Race, or OMG! Let’s Watch Live Rowing!

The sad truth, dear novice rower, is that top-notch rowing is almost never seen live. One upcoming opportunity is the Summer Olympics. (This summer! Hurrah!)

The other is The Boat Race. Coming this Sunday, March 27th. GAH!

To me, The Boat Race represents all that is rowing: It takes place in London on the Thames. It has amazing history (rowed since 1829 for men, 1927 for women). It’s very exclusive (Oxford v. Cambridge—say no more). It attracts major crowds (300,000 along the banks). Plus, there’s the occasional drama of a crazy nut swimming onto the course and being nearly beheaded by an oar, then an oar breaking leaving only 7 rowers to row, then a bow seat passing out at the finish—all in one race (2012)!

So let’s learn about The Boat Race, shall we? It will make you a hit at a cocktail party (well, a British one anyway).

 ·      It’s long and short at the same time. While it doesn’t last very long (about 16 minutes for the men, slightly longer for the women), if you are the one rowing for 4¼ miles, it’s a very, very long race. (FYI, there are no major rowing races in the U.S. this long—three miles is usually the limit.)

·      There’s hype! If you watch on the BBC, it’s like the Kentucky Derby…short race, but long on interviews with everyone you can imagine, and behind the scenes feel-good stories. Ahhh…bask in it.

·      Finally, women. While women competed in their “own version” of the event beginning in the early 1900s, it was just last year that Cambridge and Oxford women rowed on the same race course on the same day as the men.

·      It’s a side-by-side contest. In the U.S., longer races (called head races) have staggered starts and are raced for time. In The Boat Race, the winner crosses the finish line first. Period. Instant gratification is yours (and theirs)!

·      Coxswains get tossed in the water! The winning crews toss their coxswains into the mighty Thames. Tradition, tradition, tradition!

·      Shocking but true—these rowers aren’t all British! The Cambridge men (a.k.a., the Light Blues) will have only one British oarsman, and Oxford (a.k.a., the Dark Blues) has five Brits. Americans are well represented, with three American men rowing for Cambridge, two men for Oxford, and two Americans with the women’s Cambridge team. For the first time in history, both boathouse presidents are Americans. Go Yanks, go!

Now that you are as hyped up as I am, you can find the TV schedule here, or watch live online. BBC coverage starts at 9:30am CDT with the second team boat races for men and women, and runs for about two hours until the end of the men’s race. And if you are in London (lucky!), you can watch with the natives. Find the details here.

NB: If the fact that this takes place on Easter Sunday makes live watching impossible, know that the races will be available to rewatch on BBC and on The Boat Race website (where, by the way, you can become a Boat Race expert with a little clicking and reading).

Cheers, and happy watching!