The 2012 Trial Eights

Sean Bowden, OUBC Coach, and Steve Trapmore, CUBC Coach, with the trophy in 2011.

Tim Koch reports from London:

The recent and delightful HTBS item about the 1896 Cambridge Trial Eights reminds me that the 2012 Trials for both Universities will take place on the Thames Tideway on Thursday, 13 December (HTBS will be there). Two OUBC crews will race each other at 11.10 and then two CUBC crews will race each other at 12.25. In the past the Trial Eights were raced separately, usually with Cambridge at Ely and Oxford at Henley – as this 1934 cinema newsreel shows:


The old idea behind Trials is explained in this 1933 newsreel:


The modern version of the Trial Eights (with both Boat Clubs on the Tideway on the same day) is still useful for crew selection but is now perhaps more of a public relations exercise for the sponsors. While I am not privy to the Boat Race coaches’ selection methods, today’s top crews are usually selected using a more scientific approach involving very sophisticated trials known as ‘seat racing’.

Here two boats race each other repeatedly over the same course but, in each race, one member of each crew is swapped into the other boat. It is difficult to do this fairly and remove all other variables and it certainly cannot be done on the Tideway with its constantly changing conditions. Also, the results are difficult to interpret – but it is still generally regarded as one of the best ways of picking a top level crew from a large number of people. A full explanation of seat racing is on the splendid South African Association of Rowing Coaches website.

Other selection factors that they did not have to consider in 1896 were individual ergo scores and the results of a lot of small boat racing.

The 2012 – 2013 ‘Boat Race Season’ officially began on 22 November when, according to tradition, the President of the previous losing club challenged the President of the previous victorious club to the next race. As both the Cambridge Men’s and Women’s Blue Boats won in 2012, it was up to Alex Davidson and Bridget Fryer of Oxford to issue the Challenges on behalf of their clubs.

The 2013 ‘BNY Mellon Boat Race’ for the men’s heavyweight first and second eights will take place on Sunday, 31 March, 2013, on the Putney to Mortlake course. The heavyweight women will compete in the ‘Newton Women’s Boat Race’ at the Henley Boat Races a week before on Sunday, 24 March, 2013. The women will achieve parity with the men when their race moves to ‘Boat Race Day’ proper on the Tideway in 2015.

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