Tim Koch writes:
I have often noted that for something to appear unchanging, in reality it must constantly if subtilely evolve. In rowing, this is no better illustrated than looking at Boat Race Day, a unique event dating from 1829 whose popularity continues in a very different age to the one in which it was conceived. The usual complaint from those outside (and a few inside) rowing is that ‘The Day’ is now too commercial. As is usual with those who hark back to some ‘golden age’ (that usually never actually existed) they forget just how bad things actually were before the change about which they rail against. Before professionalism (i.e. before sponsor’s money) the 4 1/4 mile event was a race only until the fitness ran out (around Hammersmith) and then it was a procession to the finish. Many people did not realise this until the television age when they could see these facts for themselves, previously disguised by radio commentators’ florid descriptions or pressmen’s purple prose.
It is sometimes held that Boat Race Day would continue to exist even if it were still informally organised by a few Old Blues in a bar. This ignores that fact that organisers of events are increasingly legally responsible for the safety of any crowds that their occasion attracts – a great expense that someone has to pay for. Passing over this, if the Boat Race were still run as it once was, it would not have the relevance or support that it had from the public in the days when they were enthralled by virtually any spectacle that they did not have to pay for and were much more amused by a lot less than today’s more sophisticated consumers.
This year, of course, there was the momentous event of the Women’s Race taking place over the full Putney to Mortlake course on the same day as the men. After happening once, could anyone conceive of it not continuing? It has clearly boosted interest in Boat Race Day and I suspect that most of its new fans will continue to support it long after the novelty of the new race has worn off.
There follows my not entirely serious illustration of how Boat Race Day has changed and how it has stayed the same in its 186 years.
On the balcony
The toss for stations
More Boat Race stories to follow over the next week….