Cambridge women won the last boat race, held in 2019 on the ThamesWikimedia Commons

This morning (25/03), the four teams from Cambridge and Oxford announced their crews of eight for their races scheduled for Easter Sunday, 4th April at Ely. The Cambridge crews are as follows: 

Men’s Eight:

Cox: Charlie Marcus (Trinity)

Stroke: Drew Taylor (Clare)

7: Callum Sullivan (Peterhouse)

6: Ollie Parish (Peterhouse)

5: Garth Holden (St. Edmund’s)

4: Quinten Richardson (Fitzwilliam)

3: Seb Benzecry (Jesus)

2: Ben Dyer (Gonville and Caius)

Bow: Theo Weinberger (St. John’s)

Women’s Eight:

Cox: Dylan Whittaker (King’s)

Stroke: Sarah Tisdall (Lucy Cavendish)

7: Bronya Sykes (Gonville and Caius)

6: Sophie Paine (Girton)

5: Anouschka Fenley (Lucy Cavendish)

4: Caoimhe Dempsey (Newnham)

3: Abba Parker (Emmanuel)

2: Sarah Portsmouth (Newnham)

Bow: Adriana Perez Rotondo (Newnham)

The Oxford crews can be found here.

Among the women, it is clear that Newnham and Lucy Cavendish are particularly well represented, accounting for five of the eight rowers. The crews were announced during an hour-long press conference conducted via Zoom, in which the media had the opportunity to put questions to organisational staff, coaches and the crews themselves.

This year's Boat Races will make history in their selection of female umpires to arbitrate over both the men’s and women’s races. Both umpires, Sarah Winckless MBE and Judith Packer, were present on the call. Winckless, formerly of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge and bronze medallist at Athens 2004, will take charge of the men’s while Packer, formerly of St. Peter’s College, Oxford, will take charge of the women’s. The pair had been set to invigilate last year’s race before it was cancelled. 

This year will mark the second time that the men’s race has been staged at Ely, with the first being 1944, but the first time that the women’s race has taken place there. Having moved to the Championship Course from Henley in 2015, the women will now change course again.

The differences between the Great Ouse and the Thames were the subject of a majority of the conversation on the Zoom call. One of the most obvious changes is the fact that the stretch of the Great Ouse to be used for the races is dead straight, whereas coxes are usually required to navigate the significant bends of the Thames. Equally, the Championship Course is usually 6.8km long, from Putney to Chiswick Bridge, however, the stretch chosen at Ely is only 4.89km. 

The Chair of the Race and Operations Committee, Dr George Gilbert defended this choice, arguing that the distance still allows it to be “hugely tactical”, where “anything can change”, through different pacing strategies. He added, “it isn’t just a flat-out power sprint from the start”.

Dr Gilbert, as well as a number of his colleagues, reiterated the necessary steps that have been taken in order to ensure the safety of staging the Boat Race during the pandemic. There will be no reserve races. Nearby roads and public footpaths will be “completely closed”. The media access to the race will be “incredibly restricted”.

All planning has required the co-operation of East Cambridgeshire District Council, the UK government, the emergency services, environmental agencies, British Rowing and a host of other organisations.

Dr Gilbert explained that, surprisingly, organising the race during the COVID pandemic has proven more challenging than organising it in central London, on one of the busiest rivers in the world, with 250,000 spectators.

In the ensuing Q&A session, crews from both universities explained how maintaining a close bond between the rowers has proved challenging during lockdown separations. Equally, the transition from individual ergs to boats on the water has required a degree of adjustment, both in terms of technique and teamwork. Oxford Chief Coach, Sean Bowden, mentioned that it may also have some implications on the likelihood of injuries.

The Boat Race Company have repeated their call for fans not to attend the race but instead to watch it on the BBC, who will be broadcasting live between 15:00 and 17:30 next Sunday.

The women’s race will take place first, at 15:50 and the men’s will follow at 16:50. The two presentations will then be at 17:15 and 17:20 respectively.

This year will mark the 75th edition of the women’s Boat Race and the 166th men’s Boat Race.