Varsity punting to take centre stage on the river

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Punting is a must for any Oxford student in Trinity term, offering a great way to relax and absorb the sunshine. Since the tradition began during the reign of Victoria, thousands of students head down to the River Cherwell down by Magdalen Bridge to cruise through Christ Church Meadow and beyond.

However, there are other lesser-known spots throughout the city, such as on the River Isis by Port Meadow. Punting is surprisingly accessible on the Thames above the tidal limit at Teddington; even in places where the river is broad, it is often surprisingly shallow, especially near the banks.

Although it may sound like a rather leisurely sport, punt racing at its highest level is actually a very fast-paced affair requiring real upper body strength and a mastery of the technique. Punt racing has existed on the Thames since the 1880s, and unsurprisingly it was not long before Oxford and Cambridge hosted a race between the two universities – with the first mention of a race in the early 20th century. Since then, many races have been held between the two universities, and this year a race will be contested between Oxford and Cambridge for the first time since 2007. In this special feature, Cherwell looks back to the last Varsity punt race seven years ago.

The 2007 Punt Race was an exciting and fast-paced affair held in Cambridge during May Bumps (their equivalent of Summer Eights). Racing occurred in pairs and the cup was contested over a series of five races. Four races down, and the two teams were tied; the result would thus come down to the final race. Yet Oxford’s top pair, Alex Dickens and Andy Cohen, had been forced into the bank by a little of the Tabs’ infamous trickery in a previous race and the reserve team had to be called in.

In the final race, Cambridge, as was their plan, pushed forward over the first 30 yards. But they tired, the result of a recognizably poor fitness regime. Seizing their chance, Oxford’s daring reserve duo surged past, edging across the line in what some would call a photo finish.

The punting rivalry between the two universities extends beyond the river though, with the naming of the punting equipment differing between cities. The ‘punter’ stands at the rear of the punt, named the ‘box’ in Cambridge, but the ‘swim’ in Oxford. A pedantic difference perhaps encapsulates the age-old rivalry that has been held between the two universities.

This year, the Varsity punt race returns with a vengeance for the first time since the dramatic 2007 Oxford victory to be contested on the River Cam in the heart of the Other Place, on Wednesday of 7th Week.

Trials for the team were held on the Cherwell in third week, and the Oxford punting authorities can report that there are lots of beginners making up a an highly promising team.

Anyone interested in taking a casual punting habit to the next level, and perhaps even challenging our Cantabrian rivals should contact Will Tomsett at william.tomsett@regents.ox.ac.uk.

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