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Boat Race 2015: May the Best Men … and Women Win

First amongst equals: Cambridge cox Vian Sharif stands amongst her team members at the announcement of the 145th annual [Oxford] versus Cambridge boat race

First amongst equals: Cambridge cox Vian Sharif stands amongst her team members at the announcement of the 145th annual Oxford versus Cambridge boat race

Sporting history will be made on Saturday 11th April 2015 when The BNY Mellon Boat Race is joined on the Tideway for the first time by The Newton Women’s Boat Race on the same stretch of four and a quarter miles about 6.8km. As in many parts of British life gender equality finally comes to this most macho of physical sporting pursuits hitherto regarded as a traditional male bastion. First raced in 1829 and 1927 respectively, The BNY Mellon Boat Races are amongst the oldest sporting events in the world.

The women’s inaugural race alongside their male counterparts has been further boosted with famous Chiswick broadcaster Clare Balding opting instead to commentate on the event rather than the Grand National. She tweeted: “Proud to be presenting #TheBoatRaces today. Historic day for sport & progress towards equality.”

1909 Oxford and Cambridge boat race

Tradition: The 1909 race between Oxford and Cambridge

Watched by thousands along the banks of the Thames, between Putney, Hammersmith, Chiswick and Mortlake in London, and by millions more on TV around the world, The BNY Mellon Boat Races are a unique sporting event. With four very strong squads of athletes, expect to see great Races this year.

Women on the river: The early years

Founded in 1927 but only raced intermittently until the mid-1960’s, the first women’s race was held on the Isis in Oxford, with (according to The Times) “large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath” as the men objected to women rowing.

Initially the Cambridge rowers always came from Newnham College (at that time exclusively female); later, with the official founding of CUWBC they were also joined by students from Girton. However it was Oxford who enjoyed early success, winning the six races held between 1930-41.

Oxford student Maxie Scheske who is on the historic rowing team of nine women attended St Paul’s Girls School in Brook Green, west London. She told the Evening Standard: “I remember watching this race when I was young but there was not really anyone for me to aspire to as such, it was always the men. But this is more direct for young women to look at. This is women achieving something, something difficult, something  that hasn’t necessarily been done before.”

 

Where to watch

Spectators crowd onto a bridge over the River Thames before the start of the annual boat race between crews from Oxford and Cambridge universities in London

Family day out: Boat race spectators gather along one of the bridges on the race course

The Boat Races are one of the biggest free sporting events in London. See them from one of the many vantage points along the riverbank such as Putney, Hammersmith, Barnes or Chiswick. Boat Races in the Park events in Bishops Park, Fulham and Furnival Gardens, Hammersmith feature big screens plus merchandising stalls and bars.

The Newton Women’s Boat Race will shown live on BBC1 and streamed on the BBC iPlayer from 4.50pm ahead of the Men’s race at 5.50pm. Cambridge holds an 81 to 78 lead over Oxford in the men’s race.

(Additional reporting www.theboatrace.org)

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