The Boat Race is contested over a 6.8 kilometre stretch of the River Thames in south-west London. It starts just downstream of Putney Bridge and ends at Chiswick Bridge, passing under Hammersmith Bridge and Barnes Bridge along the way.
Before the race, the presidents of the opposing boat clubs will face off for a coin toss, with the winner deciding which side of the river, or which ‘station’, to row on. The Putney side of the river, the south side, is known as Surrey, and the Fulham side, the north side, is known as Middlesex.
Each station has its own advantages and disadvantages: the crew on the Middlesex station will have shorter bends to row through at the start and finish of the race, while the Surrey crew will have a shorter distance to row around the long, looping curve in the middle.
Seven of the last 10 men’s races have been won by the crew on the Surrey side, and the popular choice for the winner of the coin toss has been Surrey, but victory has been pretty evenly split between both stations over the Boat Race’s 190-year history.
The course record for the men’s Boat Race is 16 min 19 sec and was set by Cambridge in 1998. The women’s record is 18 min 33 sec and was set by the Cambridge crew of 2017. There has only been one dead heat in the history of the competition, in 1877, a result that has long-since been disputed.
The weather can play a huge part in how the race pans out, and few will forget the atrocious conditions that determined the women’s race in 2016, when the Cambridge boat narrowly avoided sinking on its way to a 71-second margin of defeat.
Fortunately, the weather is forecasted to be much calmer for this year’s race, with just some light cloud and a gentle breeze through the day. If that doesn’t change too much before race day the water shouldn’t be too choppy, which will make for much more competitive races than the women’s contest of three years ago.
The Women’s Crews
This year will mark only the fourth since the women’s Boat Race relocated from Henley-on-Thames to share equal billing with the men, and the races since then gave been eventful, most notably the near-sinking of the Cambridge boat in 2016. Oxford went on to win that race by 24 lengths, but Cambridge bounced back to win by clear margins in the next two races.
Barring any disasters akin to the 2016 race, this year’s women’s Boat Race should be a closely contested one. Tricia Smith is the only member of last year’s victorious Cambridge crew to return for the 2019 race, and she will use her experience to provide some stability in the bow seat.
Larkin Sayre of Emmanuel College will take the four seat after racing in last year’s victorious reserve crew, and she will be joined by her crewmate from that race, Laura Foster, in the three seat. The Cambridge reserve boat – Blondie – won by nine lengths in 2018, so these two rowers have the power and experience to shine on the big stage.
Similarly to Cambridge, the Oxford crew have just one returning member from last year’s race. Renée Koolschijn, who raced in the bow seat in 2018, will take the three seat and will be looking to make amends for a disappointing seven-length loss last time out. Oxford University Women’s Boat Club (OUWBC) president Eleanor Shearer will cox in the Boat Race for the second time in three years, and she coxed the current women’s crew through this year’s OUWBC trials, so knows what it takes to win.
Amelia Standing will take the stroke seat for Oxford, and unlike many participants in the Boat Race, who are relatively new to rowing when they start their university training, Standing has some high-level experience. She rowed for Great Britain at the Junior European Rowing Championships, Coupe de la Jeunesse in 2017 and took home a gold medal in the coxless 4s and a silver medal as the two seat in the girls’ eights. Standing and the rest of her crew will be up against an experienced Cambridge crew, but it could be a close race.
|Seat||Name||Age||Height (cm)||Weight (kg)||Seat||Name||Age||Height (cm)||Weight (kg)|
|Bow||Isobel Dodds||22||172||70.5||Bow||Tricia Smith||25||178||69.9|
|2||Anna Murgatroyd||24||178||69.9||2||Sophie Deans||22||175||69.7|
|3||Renée Koolschijn||29||180||73.8||3||Laura Foster||20||185||77.1|
|4||Lizzie Polgreen||30||168||60.7||4||Larkin Sayre||24||173||71.8|
|5||Tina Christmann||23||178||72.2||5||Kate Horvat||23||185||69.5|
|6||Beth Bridgman||21||176||70.4||6||Pippa Whittaker||27||182||74.1|
|7||Olivia Pryer||21||185||77.3||7||Ida Gørtz Jacobsen||24||175||71.9|
|Stroke||Amelia Standing||19||180||74||Stroke||Lily Lindsay||22||179||74.3|
|Cox||Eleanor Shearer||22||160||47||Cox||Hugh Spaughton||20||165||57|
The Men’s Crews
The big news for this year’s men’s race is that Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell is picking up his blades again to row in the two seat in the Cambridge boat. At 46 years of age, Cracknell will be the oldest rower ever to compete in the men’s Boat Race. He has acknowledged that he will find the race challenging, but if he can find some of the power that propelled him to Olympic glory, he will provide a huge boost for the Cambridge crew.
Two members of last year’s victorious Cambridge crew will race again this year: Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) president Dara Alizadeh will take the four seat, and Freddie Davidson the seven seat. It is Davidson’s third Boat Race in as many years, after winning in 2018 but narrowly losing in 2017, when Cambridge posted the fastest Boat Race time in more than 10 years but lost out to an Oxford crew that were even faster.
The members of the Oxford crew don’t have quite the same experience in the Boat Race as their opponents, but they could make up for it with some big power in the middle of the boat. Patrick Sullivan and Tobias Schroder will take the four and five seats respectively and at around 6’6” tall both are a couple of inches taller than their counterparts in the Cambridge boat. A fast start could be key to Oxford’s race this year, especially if they push off from Surrey, and the middle pair will have a big part to play in that.
Oxford University Boat Club (OUBC) President Felix Drinkall will take the stroke seat in this year’s race and will be the only Oxford crew member who participated in the 2018 Boat Race. His experience, as well as his timing and rhythm, will be key for settling the nerves of his crew and establishing a good pace from the start. They might not have the experience, but youth is on Oxford’s side. They will hope at the very least to be within a length in the closing stages, in order to put the pressure on towards the finish line and test the engine of an older Cambridge crew.
|Seat||Name||Age||Height (cm)||Weight (kg)||Seat||Name||Age||Height (cm)||Weight (kg)|
|Bow||Charlie Pearson||20||187||84.3||Bow||Dave Bell||31||186||84.5|
|2||Ben Landis||24||190||86.1||2||James Cracknell||46||193||89.7|
|3||Achim Harzheim||26||192||88.8||3||Grant Bitler||23||199||95.8|
|4||Patrick Sullivan||23||202||90.7||4||Dara Alizadeh||25||194||91|
|5||Tobias Schroder||19||201||98.7||5||Callum Sullivan||19||195||88.2|
|6||Felix Drinkall||19||197||84.3||6||Sam Hookway||28||197||89|
|7||Charlie Buchanan||22||190||78||7||Freddie Davidson||20||190||85.8|
|Stroke||Augustin Wambersie||23||193||89.3||Stroke||Natan Wegrzycki-Szymczyk||24||203||94.3|
|Cox||Toby de Mendonca||20||175||55||Cox||Matthew Holland||21||169||53.6|
What to Watch Out for in the 2019 Boat Race
The Boat Race is usually an exciting affair for spectators, and it is relatively easy to follow: whichever boat crosses the finishing post first wins. Here are some things to watch our for.
The boats will line up side-by-side at the start and each will look to get off to a powerful start. The race can be decided at that point, especially if a rower “catches a crab”, which is when the blade (oar) gets caught in the water and stalls the boat. It’s easy to spot when this happens, as the handle of the blade will swing dangerously back towards the rower holding it and the boat will come to a quick stop.
This happened most recently in 2017, when Rebecca Esselstein of the Oxford women’s crew caught a crab at the start of the race. Cambridge went on to win by 11 lengths. No one – especially the crews – wants that to happen, though, so hopefully after a quick start the boats will settle into a good pace.
Expect the boat on the Middlesex station to take an early lead, as it will have a shorter distance to row around the first bend. As the boats approach Harrods Depository, the Surrey crew will look to press the advantage as they row through the long, looping bend past the checkpoint at Chiswick Steps. After that, there’s one more bend into the finish, and that again favours the boat that started on the Middlesex station. Both crews will be spent by this point, so the last few hundred metres are a test of physical and mental endurance more than anything else.
A note on watching the race: the angle at which you’re watching can make it seem like one boat has an advantage, but this is not always the case. To get a true view of how the race is going, you need to be able to look directly across the course. Don’t be surprised if the race is closer than it seems at first.
Both boats will have a coxswain (cox), who doesn’t hold a blade but is still a vital member of the crew. The cox is responsible for steering the boat, setting the pace and rhythm of the rowing, as well as coaching and encouraging the crew through the race. They will sit at either the front or back of the boat and they will be in constant communication with the crew, usually through the use of mic boxes so they can be heard the length of the boat. The cox is the one you’ll hear calling or shouting through the race, and as a tradition the cox of the winning crew gets dunked in the Thames at the end of the race.
The umpire boat
The Oxford and Cambridge boats will be followed by an umpire boat, which is present to ensure that the race is competed fairly. The umpire will stand at the stern of the boat to observe the race and issue warnings to the crews if necessary. Olympic gold medal winner Matthew Pinsent umpired last year.
The rowers don’t have strict lanes to keep to, so you’ll see the boat on the outside of each bend try to take a tight racing line, which will inevitably bring them closer to the other boat. Blades will clash if the boats get too close to each other, and if that looks like happening, the umpire will bellow a warning to the impeding boat. Crews can be disqualified if they fail to heed these warnings and impede their opponents too much.
Top Boat Race Betting Tip
The Cambridge men are the strong favourites heading into this year’s Boat Race, thanks in part to the experience of their crew, which includes one of the greatest rowers Britain has ever seen. Question marks arise over the age of the crew, though: the Boat Race is punishing, especially if conditions are choppy, so it will take an Olympic effort for the Light Blues to get their bow over the line ahead of Oxford. That being said, the boat will carry some proven race winners, so barring any costly mistakes, Cambridge should take it.
If you're looking for an upset, it could just come in the women's race. The Cambridge crew are the more seasoned rowers and go into this year's boat race as favourites at odds of 1/3. Oxford have a strong crew too, though, and at odds of 9/4 to win they are well worth backing.