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Boat Race Preview: Oxford crews enter event as underdogs

Where to watch, who the favourites are, and what to look out for in this year's Boat Races

More than 250,000 people will line the banks of the Thames this weekend, and a further 15 million will be glued to their TV screens, as the flagship Varsity sporting event of the year rolls into town. With the women’s race starting at 4.31pm, and the men’s just over an hour later at 5.32, we are set for a fantastic afternoon’s viewing.

History of the race

An engraving of the 1841 boat race

Oxford are playing catch-up in both the men’s and women’s event. This – the 164th men’s boat race – will kick off with Cambridge narrowly ahead with 82 wins to Oxford’s 80. The sharper among you will have worked out that 82 and 80 don’t add up to 163. The “missing race” can be accounted for by a dead heat in 1877.

Cambridge hold an even greater lead in the history of the women’s event, with 42 wins to Oxford’s 30. The light blues also hold the course record in both events, the women completing the 4.2 miles from Putney to Mortlake in a time of 18 minutes and 33 seconds in 2017, the men in a time of 16 minutes and 19 seconds in 1998.

That said, certain omens don’t work in Cambridge’s favour. Both the men’s and women’s crews have sunk more recently than their dark blue counterparts – in 1984 and 2016 respectively. To their credit, the women’s crew of 2016 managed to resurrect the situation and at least complete the course, but the result was a lost cause by that stage.

Where to watch

Rowers pass Furnivall Gardens

If you’re at home for the race, then coverage begins on BBC1 from 3.50pm.

If you’re in London on the day, then there will be fan parks with big screens showing the race in both Bishop’s Park near Putney Bridge beside the start line and at Furnivall Gardens, close to Hammersmith Bridge in the middle of the course. Unless you arrive very early on the day then it can be difficult to see the boats coming past due to the depth of the crowds, so the fan parks are to be recommended.

Other popular viewing spots include Hammersmith, Barnes and Chiswick Bridge.

Who are the favourites?

The Cambridge women are on average 3kg heavier than the Oxford crew and have a more experienced crew; the Dark Blue boat contains only one returning blue. That said, form is on the side of Oxford, who have won four of the last five races.

Despite winning four of the last five races, Oxford’s men go into the race as underdogs, with just two returning blues after the controversial withdrawal of Joshua Bugajski through illness.

They will also be fielding a considerably lighter crew than the Cambridge boat, who will pack in at an average of 86kg per man. Ominously for Oxford, 58% of boat races have been won by the heavier crew. A combination of these factors will see Cambridge start as the odds on favourites.

Watch out for

The coin toss. History shows this to be a crucial moment in determining the outcome of the race. The captain who wins the coin toss chooses whether to row on the Middlesex or the Surrey side of the river. As the course winds around bends in the river, there is a huge advantage to be gained from being on the inside of the bend.

Particularly successful crews get out in front early on in the race, and are then at liberty to take the inside track on each and every bend. Crews who have won the toss and subsequently chosen the Surrey side have gone on to win 62% of Boat Races.

The start of the race is of crucial importance, with 88% of crews who have reached Hammersmith Bridge first going on to be victorious.

The crews

The 2018 Boat Race crews (Photo: The Boat Race/Twitter)

Bow: Renée Koolschijn (Keble, 73.4 kg)
2: Katherine Erickson (Wolfson, 69.6 kg)
3: Juliette Perry (Somerville, 73.4 kg)
4: Alice Roberts* (St Edmund Hall, 67.0 kg)
5: Morgan McGovern (St Catherine’s, 72.1 kg)
6: Sara Kushma (Christ Church, 73.5 kg)
7: Abigail Killen (St Cross, 70.4 kg)
Stroke: Beth Bridgman (St Hugh’s, 67.8 kg)
Cox: Jessica Buck (Green Templeton, 53.5 kg)


Bow: Iain Mandale (St Edmund Hall, 75.1 kg)
2: Felix Drinkhall (Lady Margaret Hall, 83.8 kg)
3: Will Cahill (Chris Church, 84.3 kg)
4: Anders Weiss (St Hugh’s, 91.5 kg)
5: Will Geffen* (Keble, 87.2 kg)
6: Benedict Aldous (Christ Church, 95.6 kg)
7: Claas Mertens (Christ Church, 73.9 kg)
Stroke: Vassilis Ragoussis* (Linacre, 88.2 kg)
Cox: Zachary Thomas Johnson (Wolfson, 54.7 kg)

* denotes returning blue.

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