The Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race

On the first weekend in April, I went to one of the most iconic London sporting events: the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race.

The Boat Race, as it’s called, has been run consecutively for 163 years on a 4.5 mile stretch of the River Thames. (Although the women’s race has only been part of the same event since 2015…and even today, the men’s race clearly gets much more attention than the women’s race.)

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I knew that the races attracted a lot of attention beyond alumni from Oxford and Cambridge, and that pubs and restaurants all along the route would have events for the day. My friend Olivia, who just began her Ph.D. in history at Oxford this past fall, came in for the day to watch the races with me. We ended up going to Furnival Gardens in Hammersmith, which had a viewing area set up on the lawn with a big screen projecting the BBC coverage of the race and food vendors set up around the lawn.

It was unseasonably warm for early April, so we were able to sit in the sun and people-watch until the race started. We got some food, as well as Pimms cocktails, a classic British summer punch.

You might think, as I did, that a university boat race wouldn’t draw much of a crowd beyond alumni, but there were about 300,000 people who watched the race in total. The day before, the police had found an unexplored WW2 bomb shell along the river, and had to remove and defuse it before the race could take place. They weren’t sure if they could get rid of it in time, but luckily they did!

The races lasted about 16-18 minutes each. The Oxford women’s team had an error with one of their oars, and so Cambridge was ahead for the whole race and won. The men’s race was more exciting because they were neck and neck nearly the entire time (including a few points where their boats were so close that it looked as if their oars would interlock, and the crowd gasped out loud).

Even though we couldn’t see the river, since we were in with the packed crowd on the lawn, we knew when they were passing by our spot because we saw them row below the Hammersmith Bridge on TV, and everyone cheered very loudly. The Oxford team won!

It was a great day out enjoying a fun English tradition, and made me hopeful that spring is here to stay!

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