Oxford vs. Cambridge: The Xchanging University Boat Race

March 31, 2011 | By Richard Heathcote | Sport

An old-standing tradition took place this past weekend: The University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge. This particular race is one of the cornerstones of British sport, pitting students against each other on one of the toughest rowing courses in the world.

I’ve covered the past three university boat races, from the early selection races and training camps right up to the intense week building up to the main event itself. I was looking forward to shooting this year’s race as well.

This year was one of the best races I’ve shot on the tideway, and the unique perspective we photographers get following the race in a tiny launch is amazing. You have to juggle your cameras as you don’t want to be changing lenses or dropping them over the side into the river. The race happens quickly, so I enjoy looking for different angles and pictures during the days beforehand to have a complete selection of images to tell the story of the event.

At the end, we jump off to the shore to get the cox being thrown in — a tradition that always makes a nice picture and signals the end of six months of hard training for the students.

The idea for a rowing race between the universities came from two friends: Charles Merivale, a student at Cambridge, and his Harrow school friend, Charles Wordsworth (nephew of the poet William Wordsworth), who was at Oxford.  On March 12, 1829, Cambridge sent a challenge to Oxford, and the tradition was born. It has continued to the present day, where the loser of the previous year’s race challenges the opposition to a re-match.

Many may not know this, but there have been many ‘famous’ competitors lining up in both crews.From four-time Olympic gold medalist Sir Matthew Pinsent to actor Hugh Laurie and Facebook Twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, all have battled along the tough 4 ¼ mile tideway course.

As race day arrived, thousands of people lined the river to watch the action. Oxford won the toss and chose the south side of the river which has the harder start, but easier middle section if you can keep up. Cambridge were favorites going into the race, having looked good all week, but Oxford poured the power on at the start. The crews were pretty neck-and-neck going past Fulham football club.

The river has a very narrow ‘fast lane’ where the incoming tide moves quicker and Oxford got to it first and rowed perfectly under the masses watching from Hammersmith Bridge. From there they took the advantage and the light blues of Cambridge just couldn’t catch them.

Oxford powered to the finish line at Chiswick bridge and after 4 ¼ miles of incredible rowing, Mortiz Hafner of Oxford stood up and raised his dark blue blade in celebration as the rest of his crew collapsed in glory of winning a phenomenal race.

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