The 2015 Boat Races were historic. All four races saw decisive victories for the dark blues and a massive turn out of spectators on the Thames’ banks meant the atmosphere felt more electric than ever. What’s most noteworthy, however, wasn’t just that our men and women shoed the tabs so ably, but for the first time in the Boat Race’s 161 year long history, our women rowers competed along the same course as our men.
To put that in perspective, rowing on the Thames in the Oxford vs. Cambridge boat race has been a men only activity since 1854 – when Queen Victoria was on the throne, the British involvement in the Crimean War had just begun and a cholera epidemic was ripping through London killing thousands. It all sounds practically medieval – and not just the rampant spread of water-borne disease.
In contrast, the first Women’s Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge crews took place in 1927 – the year the BBC was granted a Royal Charter, Southern Ireland was first recognised as independent from the UK and Newcastle United finished the football season as First Division champions. In other words, it has taken 88 years for Oxford women to be seen rowing on the same course as our men along the river Thames.
It all sounds practically medieval – and not just the rampant spread of water-borne disease”
Before this year, the Women’s Boat Race took place as part of regatta known as the Henley Boat Races at Henley. The event regularly drew up to 10,000 spectators to the river on the day and was watched by thousands at home via its first televised broadcast in 2008. By comparison, in 2009, 270,000 people turned up on the banks of the Thames to watch the men’s Boat Race along the Thames course whilst 7 million watched from home on their televisions.
The tideway’s 6.8km course stretches from Putney to Mortlake in South West London along the Thames. In previous years, the Women’s Boat Race at Henley was over a 2km course. The step-up in distance, however, definitely didn’t prove too much of a challenge for our girls; they beat Cambridge by a massive 6.5 lengths.
We could get bogged down in and angry with the reasons as to why these historical and more recent discrepancies have existed, and have been allowed to exist, but I propose a different path. Rather than getting upset, disheartened and downtrodden by these issues; see the events of Saturday 11th April as a triumph and a breakthrough. Rather than feel resentment towards the pre-existing and well-established status quo; recognise that this is now being challenged. Rather than feeling deflated, realise that a long-held rivalry, although as fierce as ever, has enabled a group of very talented athletes to come together, to make a statement and to do something very special.
The 2015 Boat Races were indeed historic – but one was one that rowing will remember for a long time to come.